by Vanessa Ogle

Members of the Manhattan Beach Community Group were briefed by representatives of the state-run New York Rising program at their meeting last night, contributing proposals and feedback and asking questions about the project’s next steps. The presentation also elicited a few uncertain murmurs and misguided questions that suggested the program, now four months into its public phase,  is anything but widely understood.

NY Rising is a state program to funnel millions of federal rebuilding dollars to local communities, with projects determined by neighbors at public meetings and through committees comprised of local leaders. Brooklyn has four reconstruction zones, including a newly added Canarsie zone, and Manhattan Beach belongs to a coalition that includes Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, Coney Island and Seagate. Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach are part of a second committee. According to the New York Rising presenter, Manhattan Beach is expected to receive approximately $5.5 million dollars in a first round of funding for its project proposals.

“We have been trying to impress upon NY Rising that the most important thing that we have here is to get infrastructure fixed,” MBCG President Judy Baron, who also represents the group in the NY Rising local committee, told her members. “Because if we don’t have water coming into our basements, we can talk about anything else.”

Infrastructure, whether it was about repairing and rebuilding the Manhattan Beach Bathhouse, installing seawalls or adding surge protection measures around Sheepshead Bay, was a main concern—especially when it came to recalling the sewer backup.

Baron stressed the importance of community input, adding that these ideas were—and should be—representative of the voices of the community.

Alex Zablocki, the NYC Regional Lead of the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, noted that all ideas, even ones that seemingly fall outside of the relatively small budget, are important, especially if they are problems that FEMA hasn’t addressed or the city and state haven’t identified.

Zablocki also stressed the importance of ideas, especially big ideas, adding, “There is an opportunity here to see 10 times the amount of money that this committee is receiving by having real good, innovative ideas that could be funded through other funding sources.”

Though not all ideas discussed require huge sums of money.

“One of the projects that has popped up is enhancing coordination between civic groups, non-profit organizations and government agencies to better prepare for future emergencies,” said Christopher Gorman, the co-lead of NY Rising.

The MBCG has until Jan. 31 to identity the priority projects that the firm will run cost-benefit analyses on before the eventual March 31 deadline, when the final plan will be submitted to Governor Cuomo’s office.

But many of the audience members were concerned that the problems facing the community involving the rebuilding process are escalating much quicker than the slow-moving process of the generalization of rebuilding.

“We’re not going to know what’s going to happen for another year or so,” said Stan Kaplan, who felt moving was his best option after the storm and no longer lives in Manhattan Beach, though he still tries to attend the meetings.

Aside from the slow process, NY Rising, though a state program, can’t seem to escape the connotations of the city’s program, Build It Back—and the unresolved issues surrounding it.

“The first priority was to rebuild and move in but immediately after, the priority becomes to be able to stay in the houses,” Anna Kader said, noting the new flood insurance rates that could thousands of dollars more a year for a home that’s below FEMA’s base flood elevation guidelines. “I don’t know who can continue to live in their house—I’m not going to be able to continue—but on the other hand, you won’t be able to sell your house either because who’s going to buy it for such a high insurance rate?”

A draft proposal of the plan for Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, Coney Island and Seagate can be found here, where you can also submit your own comments and suggestions. The plan for Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach can be found here.

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