Price tags and timelines for rebuilding still pending, City Manager Schnirman said.
Sen. Charles Schumer holds up a piece souther yellow pine at a press conference at National beach in Long Beach on Monday morning, when he vowed to obtain more funds from FEMA to rebuild the boardwalk stronger and safer. (Credit: Joseph Kellard)
Sen. Charles Schumer vowed that he would get the federal government to give Long Beach the necessary funds to build a new boardwalk that is stronger and safer than its wooden predecessor that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy last October.
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At a press conference at National Boulevard beach on Monday, Schumer,
D,-NY, said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency normally provides municipalities only enough funding to rebuild a public structure as it was before a disasterous storm, but under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program the agency can provide additional funds to rebuild more resilient structures, as Long Beach looks to do. Moreover, under Hazard Mitigation, cash-strapped municipalities such as Long Beach would get the funds up front, rather than rebuild first and have FEMA reimburse them.
“We shouldn’t use this wood again, even though other materials, including tropical hardwood, are more expensive, said Schumer, holding up a piece of southern yellow pine, the material used for the prior boardwalk that he said lasts up to seven years. “FEMA should pay for the stronger tougher materials, even if they cost a little more.”
Schumer cited the Atlantic City boardwalk, which he said is made of tropical hardwood, and said it withstood Sandy’s force despite that it was comparable to what Long Beach experienced, and said FEMA can decide based on a cost-benefit analysis whether it pays to use this material.
“It would be fiscal malpractice to simply force the city to rebuild the boardwalk as it was instead of investing somewhat more in a structure that will better stand the test of time,” Schumer said.
The senator has already made efforts to expedite this process, saying that he asked FEMA to move quickly on it and representatives are scheduled to meet city officials on Tuesday, and he will speak to the agency’s administrator, William Fugate.
“I am optimistic that I can persuade administrator Fugate to do this,” he said of obtaining more funds from FEMA to rebuild the boardwalk.
Schumer said he was able to persuade Fugate to not rebuild a riverside hospital, Tri-County Memorial Hospital in Gowanda, which sustained major flooding during a storm in 2009, in the same location at $40 million. He lobbied FEMA for a year to use Hazard Mitigation to rebuild the hospital that was, he said, “a little more expensive” but rebuilt atop a hill.
“It’s not going to take that long here,” Schumer added about the prospect of using Hazard Mitigation to rebuild the boardwalk.
Last week the city held its final official meeting to gather public input on boardwalk reconstruction. City Manager Jack Schnirman said the city’s next step of a 10-step plan on boardwalk reconstruction is to submit for review all public input to Liro Engineers, the Syosset-based engineering firm the city hired to help redesign a new boardwalk. The city would then submit the finalized plans to FEMA and talk with the agency about mitigation measures.
At Monday’s press conference, Schnirman said that until the city picks the material and puts out a construction bid, the city won’t have a firm timeline. “Of course, that timeline will be as fast as possible, but it’s premature right now to say it will be ready by any specific date,” he noted.
When asked about the price tag of the boardwalk, which previously had been quoted at $25 million, Schnirman said that to “build stronger” costs more money but didn’t offer an estimate. He said Liro is working on the cost in response to the fact that 88 percent of Long Beach residents and business owners that participated in the public input meetings and surveys said they want “the number one priority to be stronger materials.”
Schumer said he assured city officials that if it cost “a little more,” we’re going to get FEMA to cover it. “So don’t be pennywise and pound foolish and build a boardwalk that will fall apart again, God forbid there is another storm,” he added. “Build a stronger one even if it costs a little more. Let’s use Atlantic City’s experience and do it.”
Standing beside Schumer were Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, D-Long Beach, and City Council members Scott Mandel, Fran Adelson and John McLaughlin. President Mandel said that in order to build a stronger, safer boardwalk, the city needs to change the materials it uses to rebuilding it.
“Unfortunately, those materials cost money,” he said. “And Sen. Schumer understands that he’s going to be crucial in helping FEMA understand and work with us in getting those materials because the finances are crucial.”
Weisenberg called Schumer a “Godsend” to post-Sandy Long Beach, and compared him to a defibrillator that can help people who are pronounced dead to come back to life.
“This is going to be the lifeline because of the small businesses, the jobs, the people that come to Long Beach,” Weisenberg said of rebuilding the boardwalk. “We need their financial resource to provide jobs and taxes to be paid so we can come back and survive and be self-sufficient.”
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