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Improved Communications Urged at Planning Council Meeting

Long Island organization's monthly meeting held at Long Beach City Hall.

John Cameron, Jr., founder and chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, addresses the audience at Long Beach City Hall on Thursday. (Credit: Joseph Kellard)
John Cameron, Jr., founder and chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, addresses the audience at Long Beach City Hall on Thursday. (Credit: Joseph Kellard)

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman and Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford, a longtime West End resident, called for improved communications following major storms such as Hurricane Sandy to the Long Island Regional Planning Council at City Hall on Thursday.

The LIRPC, which meets once a month usually in a central location in Nassau County or Suffolk County, held their first meeting of 2013 on the storm-battered barrier island, billed as “Superstorm Sandy Response in Nassau Communities: A Panel Discussion by Elected and Public Officials on our Successes, Failures and Lessons Learned.”

Schnirman addressed the 10-member council about the city’s recovery efforts after the storm that knocked out power, the water and sewer systems, and internet and cell phone capabilities for several days, even weeks. Among Schnirman’s six recommendations — which included a greater focus on mitigation and a localized Office of Emergency Management — was a call for greater publicity for the 211 system, an always-available emergency communications service.  

“It can’t be advertised enough,” Schnirman said about the system that residents can use before and after storms to receive updates on everything from transportation to police and fire services.

Both Schnirman and Ford called for greater and quicker access to mobile cell phone towers, which were delivered to the city several days after the storm. “When those towers go down, that’s absolutely crippling,” Schnirman said.

Ford noted that some residents even had lost the ability to listen to the radio, further isolating them from the world beyond the barrier island.
 
“Moving forward, we all need to communicate better,” she emphasized.  

In demanding immediate assistance on everything from a timelier flow of insurance and FEMA monies to the community, Ford called for the expeditious rebuilding of the Long Beach Medical Center, which sustained heavy damages in the storm. “We must not forget that we need to have our hospital reopened,” Ford said, noting that many elderly people in the community rely on it.

Douglas Meltzer, the CEO of LBMC, said the adjoining nursing home, the Komanoff Center, is schedule to reopen next week, but that the hospital will take more time to open. Of the 750 hospital employees who lost their jobs in the wake of the storm, he said, most have found work in other hospitals and 200 of them continue to work for LBMC, as it provides limited off-site services.

“We are working very closely with FEMA,” Meltzer told council and audience members about obtaining the funds to pay for the $22 million necessary to rebuild the hospital, on top of which $9 million is needed for new equipment.  

The Long Island Regional Planning Council was founded in 2008 with the stated goal to “educate Long Island’s officials, stakeholders and residents on key issues affecting the quality of life on Long Island, and to serve as a catalyst for action by proposing immediate and long-term implemental solutions for these issues of regional concern,” according to the LIRPC website.

Among the council members in attendance Thursday were
Richard Guardino, the former Town of Hempstead supervisor who serves as vice president for business development at Hofstra University; John Venditto, supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay; and Sarah Lansdale, executive Director of Sustainable Long Island.

LIRPC Founder and Chairman John Cameron, Jr.
opened the meeting with a sweeping overview of globe events, from the nation’s still-high unemployment rate, to the ongoing wars in the Middle East, to the $60 billion emergency package to aid Sandy-impacted communities from New Jersey Short to the Hamptons, the second and third parts of which Congress approved on Jan. 15.  

“With regard to the island here, many communities are still struggling from Sandy,” said Cameron, who noted that the “great impediment” is uncertainty, particularly regarding the lack of funds coming from insurance companies and FEMA.  

Kevin Hannes, a branch director for Federal Emergency Management Agency, fielded a various questions from Cameron and audience members. About FEMA’s delayed payments, he in part blamed the bureaucracy of insurance companies and banks.

In answer to questions about storm-displaced residents who are using FEMA funds to pay for their hotel stays, Hannes said that originally there were about 1,000 people staying at hotels across Long Island, a number that has since dropped to about 700. “There is discussion of an extension,” Hannes replied, noting that FEMA sees to work with the Red Cross and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide these funds.

Other speakers at Thursday’s meeting included Elisa Pica, chief planning officer at the Long Island Rail Road, who said that of the four substations that need to be rebuilt, three of are in Long Beach, the fifth busiest branch. And Tracy Burgess Levy, executive director of government and community relations for Long Island Power Authority, talked about improvements LIPA has made since Sandy.


Barbara J Lee January 18, 2013 at 10:53 AM
Would like to have read a few words in this article about the "Comments" from residents and/or attendees!! especially residents of 415 National Blvd, a LBHA Senior Citizen building, who in light of Sandy's damage to the City's infrastructure, brought up issues vital to a population ill served by some of the systems set up to protect them.

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