In infrastructure, cautious gratefulness

No Sandy funds for LISandy-savaged Long island was snubbed in the latest round of FEMA funding.

BY GREGORY ZELLER // Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the award of $22 million in federal grants to rebuild New York bridges, reinforce sea walls and strengthen anti-flooding measures this week.

Surprising approximately no one, Long Island was excluded from the list.

The money, from a Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation fund, is going to three New York City projects and one spanning upstate Oneida and Herkimer counties, with none earmarked for infrastructure improvements in Long Island communities ravaged by October 2012 Superstorm Sandy.

Instead, FEMA has granted final construction approval for the replacement of the State Route 8 Bridge, which connects Herkimer and Oneida. The agency is also backing repairs to the bulkhead and sea wall in Brooklyn’s Sea Gate community, the replacement of sluice gates between Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek, and flooding-mitigation efforts on the Staten Island campus of the Richmond University Medical Center.

While the governor was the one spreading the news, it was FEMA that decided which projects would be funded, following a state-managed application process. Still, the tune seems uncomfortably familiar to Long Island activists who believe the Island is regularly shortchanged when it comes to government funding. And in the case of the $22 million in hazard-mitigation funds, at least, FEMA indeed seems to have taken Albany’s cue.

Marc Herbst, director of the Hauppauge-based Long Island Contractor’s Association, acknowledged that “there are many needs in other parts of the state,” but agreed that the lack of Long Island funding in Wednesday’s announcement “is a reminder that we must be vigilant in working with our elected officials to make sure Long Island isn’t forgotten.”

It’s a common theme among Island insiders. Speaking to Innovate LI earlier this month about state funding for alternative-energy initiatives, David Hamilton, director of business development for Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, noted that “considering the amount of money Long Island pays in taxes and surcharges, a proportional amount does not come back to Long Island.”

“In each budget category, we get lower numbers,” agreed Eric Alexander, director of smart-growth booster Vision Long Island. “There’s this perception that Long Island is wealthy and, in a progressive state, the state’s resources should go to New York City and to lower-wealth regions upstate.”

This is “not a new trend,” Alexander added, and “not personalized to this governor,” but it should certainly rally activists, residents and elected officials.

“Long Island must be vigilant to get everything we can,” he said.

The Island often seems to get less than what it can, or should. Rebuking the Cuomo Administration’s funding of those green-energy projects, Hamilton noted that “the governor had made a commitment for a certain amount of money LIPA would pay on alternative-energy projects post-Sandy … but the state only gave a portion of it.”

“They did not live up to the general bargain,” Hamilton said.

Herbst agreed that the Cuomo administration promised “certain funding, and it hasn’t come to fruition,” noting such cases inevitably cause “frustration” for the Long Island region.

“At times, there’s definitely a stronger emphasis on other parts of the state,” Herbst said. “These [Long Island] repairs, improvements and other projects need to move forward. I don’t want to be too critical of any particular grant because it didn’t include Long Island, but I do want to make sure that prior funding that was promised to Long Island is going to come. We need it.”

Despite these apparent slights, government funding for infrastructure projects does occasionally trickle Long Island’s way. In October, Cuomo visited St. John’s University’s Oakdale campus to deliver $383 million in federal Hurricane Sandy recovery funds to support Suffolk sewers, plus another $97 million in state stipends for reconstruction of the Bay Park sewage plant.

And Alexander is quick to note that some $550 million is flowing from Albany to Long Island this year – $400 million in general funds and $150 million in bank settlements from multiple mortgage-fraud scandals. While it’s unclear which projects will be funded, the Vision Long Island director noted, “they will be Long Island infrastructure projects.”

Nassau and Suffolk might not always be a top priority for Albany or Washington, Alexander added, but “everything we get is a positive.”

“We need to keep fighting and keep up our intense collective lobbying efforts, which have resulted in more infrastructure money than in the past,” he said. “But the state has delivered some funds, so we definitely don’t want to sound ungrateful.”