Jeffries: NY flood problems need NY solutions

April 15, 2013 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
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Rather than treating Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island as generic disaster sites, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), when examining areas that have been devastated by Superstorm Sandy, should look for “New York solutions to New York problems.” 

So said Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn-Queens) at a community press briefing Monday in his office at the Shirley Chisholm State Office Building in Fort Greene.

“New York City isn’t a typical hurricane site,” he said, pointing out that hurricanes usually hit the Gulf States, where conditions are very different.

For example, he said, FEMA recommends that to minimize the impact of future floods and storms, homeowners in vulnerable areas should elevate their foundations.

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In non-urban areas where houses are separated by large yards, he said, this is feasible. However, in places like Brooklyn, houses are often built right next to each other. The foundation of one house can’t directly be altered without affecting those on either side.

FEMA also urges homeowners in flood zones to move electrical equipment out of their basements. While this isn’t necessarily a problem, he said, the federal disaster agency has also urged that many basements not be used at all.

“In New York,” said Jeffries, “many homeowners either have relatives living in the basement, or rent out basement apartments so they can have more money to pay the mortgage.”

Now that cleanups are well underway and businesses are reopening, the main task for FEMA in the metropolitan area, the congressman said, is to make flood-prone areas secure enough to withstand future disasters.

One way to do so, he said, is to build new offshore barriers, and shore up existing barriers, that prevent bodies of water from flooding onto beachfront land. Barriers are also needed to separate neighboring bodies of water from each other so that the storm surge doesn’t become stronger.

“Look at Canarsie,” Jeffries said. “It’s surrounded by three bodies of water – the ocean, Paerdegat Basin and Fresh Creek. It was considered “Zone B,” not “Zone A” [in terms of flood vulnerability]. Yet, when Sandy hit, these bodies of water all overflowed, and in many cases joined with each other.”

Jeffries mentioned several other Brooklyn neighborhoods as having been hard hit by Sandy, including Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Mill Basin and Sea Gate.

During the briefing, one reporter also asked Jeffries about the fight to save Long Island College Hospital (LICH). Jeffries answered that one his main priorities is to save SUNY Downstate Hospital, which is one of only three state-sponsored hospitals in the entire state.

Jeffries acknowledged that the SUNY Board of Trustees, which voted to close LICH, feels that LICH has been a financial drain on Downstate. However, he said, “there could be a place for LICH in Downstate’s future.” He advised SUNY to “take a step back” to see whether there are other options than closing LICH.

This writer asked Jeffries, a Democrat, whether there he shares any issues in common with Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Bay Ridge-Staten Island), the only Republican in the New York congressional delegation.

“Yes,” said Jeffries, “Hurricane Sandy!”

Jeffries, who was elected last fall to replace retiring Congressman Ed Towns, represents the 8th Congressional District, which includes Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie, Flatlands, Mill Basin and the Coney Island peninsula as well as parts of southern Queens.

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