Tag Archives: FEMA

Rep. Jeffries wants investigation into FEMA flood insurance scandal

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is calling upon the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) inspector general to investigate potential fraud in the insurance claims process for people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“Superstorm Sandy devastated many communities throughout New York City,” said Jeffries, whose district includes Howard Beach and other areas hit by Sandy. “Homes were destroyed, businesses damaged and lives turned upside down.”

“In the wake of this tragedy, FEMA failed to oversee a fair and expeditious processing of flood insurance claims,” he continued. “The public deserves to know what happened, why it happened and how we can prevent it from ever happening again.”

In New York, over 300,000 housing units were damaged and more than 260,000 businesses were affected in the 2012 storm. Jeffries charges that claims made by home and business owners were tampered with.

In a letter to FEMA, Jeffries penned, “It has become increasingly apparent that a systemic fraud was perpetrated on a vulnerable group of tax-paying Americans in need of immediate financial relief.”

“In multiple instances, engineering reports regarding storm damage were apparently altered without the knowledge of the author,” the letter continued. “Equally troublesome, in other cases engineers appear to have been pressured to inappropriately reach specific conclusions that would lower insurance company payments.”

The letter goes on to say, “Given the urgency of this situation, an independent and comprehensive review of the disposition of Superstorm Sandy-related flood insurance claims is critical. In light of the serious nature of the allegations, FEMA cannot serve as judge and jury of its own potential wrongdoing.”

Joining Jeffries in signing the letter are U.S. Representatives Charlie Rangel, Steve Israel, Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng, Yvette Clarke, Jose Serrano and Carolyn Maloney.


FEMA approves $28M in flood protection projects for LaGuardia Airport

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

LaGuardia Airport is receiving a new level of protection to keep the facility and travelers safe from future storms such as Hurricane Sandy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that FEMA approved over $28 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds to go toward helping LaGuardia Airport achieve post-Hurricane Sandy flood mitigation and resiliency initiatives.

“Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to LaGuardia Airport, but today we are taking an important step toward strengthening its infrastructure so that it is more resilient than ever before,” Cuomo said. “To face the new pattern of extreme weather, we must ensure that vital transportation hubs and economic engines like LaGuardia Airport are ready for the next major storm.”

When Sandy hit the city, LaGuardia’s airfield suffered severe flooding from water rising from Flushing Bay. The airport had to remain closed for three days due to damage to key electrical airfield infrastructure. 

The over $28 million in funds will go toward projects, expected to continue through the end of 2016, such as the construction of a flood wall and rainwater pumping system, and development of two gravity drainage systems on the airfield to advance removal of water in case of flooding. 

The money will also fund upgrades to bring the airport’s backup electrical substations into the primary power system. There will also be improvements to existing emergency generators and installation of new backup generators throughout the airport. 

“We must do everything we can to ensure that LaGuardia is able to withstand extreme weather and resume flight operations as quickly as possible,” said Pat Foye, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive director. 

Since Sandy hit in 2012, resources have been put forth to protect the airfield runways, electrical systems and aeronautical equipment. FEMA’s new grant of $28,148,625 adds onto the agency’s previous grants of more than $2 million.

“While we continue to help communities across New York recover from the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, it is equally as important to make much-needed investments in our infrastructure to ensure our city is prepared to face the challenges of any future storms,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowely said. “There is no question that one of those investments must include LaGuardia Airport, which serves tens of thousands of passengers a day and contributes greatly to our local economy.”


$50M Spring Creek flood mitigation project funded, design stage set to begin

| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Superstorm Sandy may have shown the vulnerability of southern Queens to coastal flooding but FEMA and New York state have now set aside $50 million to alleviate future flooding.

The Spring Creek Hazard Mitigation Project, headed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and National Parks Service (NPS) is focused on Spring Creek, which serves as a barrier between Howard Beach and Jamaica Bay, south of the Belt Parkway.

While the grant money has already been awarded, there are no specific construction plans yet. Once the project is designed, it will take about 18 months to finish.

“Jamaica Bay was highly impacted by Sandy,” said Joanna Fields, a representative from the DEC. “Our goals are storm protection and creating an ecologically resilient system.”

Design work is expected to start in August of 2015.  This portion is estimated to cost around $3.3 million.

Phase two of the project is projected to start in December of 2015 and end in August 2017. This portion will be the actual construction of the design and will cost about $47 million.

At this point, the DEC and NPS have not finalized the plans for Spring Creek. They are currently collecting data and looking at additional planning considerations to figure out the optimal usage for the site.

Fields stressed that the money allotted to them from FEMA was for flood mitigation but said the usage of Spring Creek as a publicly accessible space is possible.

“The National Parks Service is all about public access and our goal is to work with the community on it,” said Joshua Laird, commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor. “If maintained and done right, this could be a great thing.”

There are also no plans laid out for how exactly the land would be accessible and Fields said they would not go ahead with designing it for the public until they came back to the community to talk about it.


Arverne library to reopen following Sandy damage

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy the Queens Library

Follow me @liamlaguerre

The Arverne branch of the Queens Library is opening a new chapter.

The library will celebrate its reopening on Friday after a $1.36 million renovation following extensive damage from Superstorm Sandy nearly two years ago.

Four feet of water surged into the library during Sandy, ruining books, computers, electrical wiring and furniture.

The rebuilding money was funded by FEMA, the library’s insurance and grants, including one from the Turkish Cultural Center Queens. The library initially reopened for public service on March 18.

The reopening ceremony will feature many Queens dignitaries and a live DJ.



FEMA to pay for Sandy-damaged boilers in Rockaway NYCHA buildings

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Rob Bennett for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio

New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents in the Rockaways and other parts of the city will receive a much needed fix to their buildings following Superstorm Sandy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Charles Schumer announced Sunday that 60 boilers in 110 separate NYCHA residential buildings in the Rockaways, Coney Island and the Lower East Side that were damaged in the storm will be replaced.

FEMA will provide approximately $100 million in funding for the “new state-of-the-art-boilers.” Since Sandy, NYCHA has been spending $3 million per month for temporary boilers in the buildings.

Officials said that instead of repairing the boilers, as is normal, FEMA had agreed to replace them, speeding up the process of restoring regular service to the affected buildings.

“For more than 16 months, bureaucratic infighting and red tape have denied NYCHA residents the most basic of necessities—reliable heat and hot water,” Schumer said. “Today we’re firmly on the path to righting a wrong that has too often left NYCHA residents in the cold during the winter and in the dark at night.”

The final funding agreement is expected to be in place in time so boiler replacement can start later this year, according to Schumer.



Howard Beach’s P.S. 207 receives nearly $2M in storm recovery funds

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Twelve feet of water rushed into the basement of P.S. 207 during Sandy, leaving the Howard Beach school with over $2 million worth of damages.

Senators Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder announced Monday roughly $1.82 million is on the way for repairs.

“It’s been over a year since Sandy tore apart our schools in southern Queens and while we have all made significant progress there is still work to be done,” Goldfeder said. “This new funding will enormously help P.S. 207 rebuild and ensure our children receive the quality education they deserve.”

The FEMA federal funds will go to the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) and will reimburse 90 percent of the cost of repairs throughout the building.

The bulk of the damage was in the flooded basement, where a fuel oil tank rolled and spilled about 3,000 gallons of oil. Two boilers, electrical panels, lights, ductwork and the fire alarm system were also damaged.

The damage left the school without electricity, heat and water, and closed in the months following the superstorm. Nearly 90,000 gallons of water and oil was removed from the building before it could reopen.

“This infusion of federal money is helping P.S. 207 put the damaging effects of Hurricane Sandy in the rear-view mirror and enabling the school to get back to educating New York City’s children without crushing back-bills,” Schumer said.



FEMA releases preliminary flood insurance rate maps

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

File photo

Preliminary flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) were released Thursday as the next step in FEMA’s coastal Flood Insurance Study.

Insurance rates could go up by hundreds of dollars for homeowners in flood-prone areas, specifically those in south Queens affected by Sandy. Maps will go into effect in 2015.

Following this release, a 90-day appeal and comment period will be opened in spring 2014. Those interested will be able to submit comments to the city online.

Once the appeal is over and all issues are resolved, FEMA will issue a Letter of Final Determination (LFD) to the city that will initiate a six-month adoption period before the maps become effective.

The city has additionally signed into law revised building codes which require standards reflect new and substantially improved structures as detailed in the preliminary FIRMs.

For more information on maps, click here.



Mayor Bloomberg signs building code bills

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilmember Eric Ulrich

Living and working in Queens flood zones will be safer thanks to new building codes and zoning resolutions recently signed into law.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed several bills intended to strengthen the city’s infrastructure on November 20. Councilmember Eric Ulrich sponsored one bill he hopes will ensure that future construction meets “the highest level of resilience.”

Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are the official flood maps which FEMA utilized to detail areas of special flood hazard, base flood elevation, flood boundary and floodways.

This new legislation, along with new building codes, requires FEMA to use FIRMs as the baseline standard moving forward when building. The bill references them as the “best available flood maps.”

“Until now, many property owners in flood zones were unsure about how they should rebuild. By adopting these maps, we will allow homeowners and residents affected by Hurricane Sandy the opportunity to rebuild their communities stronger and more storm resilient,” Ulrich said.




Bill could delay flood insurance hikes for Sandy victims

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Flood zone residents can rest easy for now ‑ as impending increases in flood insurance have been put on the backburner.

Congressmembers Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries co-sponsored the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Care Act of 2013, legislation meant to address the flood insurance rate increase and “keep residents from being priced out of our community,” Meeks said.

In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which would require the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to raise flood rates to reflect “true flood risk” for a policyholder, according to FEMA.

As a result of the act, residents said that over time, their rates could get as high as $30,000 a year. Rallies protesting the price hikes were held nationwide in September, including one at the Broad Channel American Legion Hall, which brought in hundreds of residents.

“We’d like to think we played a small role,” said Dan Mundy, Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association. “It’s a really important first step. We hope to maybe have some input on this.”

The insurance affordability act imposes a four-year delay for certain primary residences. It also mandates FEMA complete an affordability study, which will take two years.

The new bill also allows FEMA to reimburse policyholders who successfully appeal a map determination.
Meeks and Jeffries worked with over 80 other members of Congress to pass the act and “fix” the NFIP, he said.

He vows to work with colleagues “across the aisle” to ensure the bill is signed into law and successfully implemented.

“The painful devastation we experienced during Sandy brought us together to get this done, but it was the resilience and commitment to rebuilt from the people of Rockaway that served as inspiration to make it happen,” Meeks said.



SANDY ONE YEAR LATER: Co-ops, condos still waiting for disaster aid

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A proposed federal law that would bring disaster aid to co-op and condo communities has not come any closer to being passed nearly one year after Sandy.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance. “It’s just prolonging the financial hardship on co-ops. Right now, we’re stuck footing the bill for cleanup and repair from the storm, and I don’t think this will be the last storm.”

Schreiber said his northeast Queens co-op expects to shell out up to $60,000 in repairs not covered by insurance.

More than $250,000 in infrastructure damage was sustained nearby in the Glen Oaks Village co-op, according to its president, Bob Friedrich.

The bill exceeds $1 million for some Rockaway co-ops in the most hard-hit areas of Queens.

The Breezy Point Cooperative, which saw about 350 homes in the beach community decimated by fire and flood, has spent $1.5 million out of the co-op’s reserves and contingency funds to get back on its feet, according to Arthur Lighthall, the co-op’s general manager.

“We had to do a good amount of repair and restoration to get things back in order,” including getting the water supply back and fixing sidewalks, Lighthall said. “The bottom line is it’s us, the shareholders, who have to pay for it.”

The pricey repair costs fall on the shoulders of co-op and condo communities due to a glitch in the law keeping them from getting FEMA storm recovery grants, local leaders said.

The Stafford Act, which governs how FEMA responds to major disasters, does not include the word “co-op,” according to Congressmember Steve Israel.

However, there is no statute that bans co-op owners from being eligible for grants, a privilege given to homeowners.

Co-op and condos are also categorized as “business associations,” which makes them eligible for federal loans but not grants. It also means they cannot get funds to fix shared spaces like lobbies and roofs.

Israel introduced legislation this August that would better define co-ops in the Stafford Act, allow co-op and condo owners to apply for FEMA grants, and call for a new cap on FEMA’s Individual and Households Program.

The bipartisan bill has at least 14 cosponsors so far but currently sits in a subcommittee on the House’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, according to Israel’s office.

An aide to the congressmember said any movement of the bill was delayed by the partial government shutdown, which lasted 16 days in October.

“It’s been a year since Superstorm Sandy hit, and it’s time for co-op and condo associations to get the help they deserve,” Israel said. “Although I’ll continue to fight my hardest, it’s frustrating that this bill hasn’t been passed so these homeowners can receive the vital assistance they deserve.”

The City Council unanimously passed a resolution, which is only a formal position statement, last month calling for Congress to enact the law.

“It really shouldn’t be that difficult,” Schreiber said. “I just find it so disappointing that we have a Congress that can’t even get together on changing one line of text that will benefit constituents on the East Coast, West Coast and middle of the country.”



Red Cross donates $1M to extend hotel program for Sandy victims

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

An anonymous donor has funded the almost-terminated Hotel Program, thereby allowing families displaced by Sandy to be housed past the original end date.

The donor, later revealed as the Red Cross, donated $1 million to the city program, which was previously funded by FEMA. That federal aid was set to stop on September 30.

“Hundreds of Sandy victims remain in hotels as they repair their homes or transition into new ones,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards, who fought against the termination of the program.

He said the end of the FEMA funding was “pushing these families into the homeless system.”

The Department of Homeless Services created the Hotel Program shortly after the storm left hundreds of residents on the streets. City homeless shelters were without any additional room, and so various hotels took in the storm victims.

Originally, the program was set to stop by May 31. The decision was taken to court, and federal funding was extended through September. The Red Cross stepped in on October 3 with its own donation.

“Today was almost the day hundreds of Sandy victims ended up on the street, or back in their mold-filled homes,” Richards said after receiving the donation. “This money gives our friends and neighbors the grace period they need to avoid homelessness.”

Over 1,000 households participated in the Hotel Program since Sandy, which cost more than $70.5 million, according to court documents. As of mid-September, 179 households remain in the program.

Since FEMA could no longer provide aid, the cost would have been transferred onto the city, which does not have a place in its budget for the program, according to court documents.

“Although this money will not extend the program forever, this will aid every day New Yorkers who are in the process of transitioning into new homes,” Richards said.



Queens’ Morning Roundup

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

morning roundup


Wednesday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Winds from the WNW at 5 to 15 mph. Wednesday night: Partly cloudy in the evening, then clear. Low of 63. Winds from the NNW at 5 to 10 mph.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Shop Alive Astoria ‘Pop Up’ Boutique

Local designers and vendors come together for a one night “Pop Up Market” at Veslo in Astoria. Complimentary cocktail to all that RSVP. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Letitia James wins Democratic runoff for public advocate

Councilmember Letitia James defeated State Senator Daniel Squadron in the primary runoff for public advocate, clinching the Democratic nomination. Read more: The Queens Courier

Dozens of cellphone-using, red light-running MTA bus drivers pulled off road

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been cracking down hard on its own drivers — ordering dozens caught using cellphones or running red lights to pull over and immediately turn in their keys. Read more: New York Daily News

FEMA extends deadline for Superstorm Sandy insurance paperwork

Superstorm Sandy victims will have six more months to file critical paperwork for insurance payments. Read more: CBS New York/AP

Queens man accuses FBI of putting him on no-fly list after refusal to inform on Muslim neighbor

A Queens man is accusing the FBI of barring him from air travel in retaliation for his refusal to inform on his Muslim neighbors. Read more: New York Daily News

Court upholds settlement affecting NYC renters

A federal appeals court has upheld a settlement affecting 20,000 rent-regulated New York City tenants. Read more: AP

Government shutdown: No progress on ending stalemate

The political stare-down on Capitol Hill shows no signs of easing, leaving federal government functions – from informational websites, to national parks, to processing veterans’ claims – in limbo from coast to coast. Lawmakers in both parties ominously suggested the partial shutdown might last for weeks. Read more: AP

Residents protest flood insurance hikes

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Maggie Hayes

Skyrocketing flood insurance rates could “do more to destroy the community than any storm has ever done,” say hundreds of residents who came out to protest the looming costs.

In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which called on agencies such as FEMA to change the way the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is run.

Through the act, the NFIP will be required to raise flood rates to reflect “true flood risk” for a policyholder, according to FEMA.

“They say it’s going to be $400 this year, and $12,000 next year,” said Dorothy McClusky, a 33-year Howard Beach resident. “If the insurance rates go up that high, we’ll have to move.”

Residents said that over time, their rates could get as high as $30,000 a year.

Rallies protesting the price hikes were held nationwide on September 28. In the borough, people from Breezy Point, Rockaway Beach, Belle Harbor, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach and Broad Channel packed tightly into Broad Channel’s American Legion to participate.

“We’re brought together by a common thread of this outrageous legislation,” said Dan Mundy, Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association. “[This act] basically will decimate your biggest savings.”

“FEMA is the agency that is going to enact this. FEMA also couldn’t find this island for two weeks [after Sandy],” Mundy said, met by resounding cheers.

The act will over time eliminate all subsidized flood insurance rates for those in participating areas and can increase those rates by two to 10 times their current cost over a five-year period, according to Councilmember Eric Ulrich’s office.

New FEMA flood maps additionally place many more residents into Zone A and Zone AE – Biggert-Waters designated areas.

“Areas that have never flooded will now be required to carry flood insurance,” said Roger Gendron, president of the Hamilton Beach Civic Association. “Homes would become virtually unsellable.”

Last week, the City Council passed a resolution calling upon Congress to amend the legislation.

“Sandy was a 700-year storm event,” Mundy said. “Nature took its best shot at us, but we were able to stay here.”

“We didn’t survive the 700-year storm to be destroyed by FEMA,” he said.

FEMA did not wish to comment.



Sandy families out of hotel program

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Displaced families whose homes were destroyed by Sandy still remain housed in hotels thanks to the city’s Hotel Program. This temporary housing, however, is coming to an end next Friday, October 4, according to a city official.

The city’s Department of Homeless Services initiated a Hotel Program that provided evacuees with housing in the interim of receiving federal recovery funds and replacing what was lost. To date, 1,313 households participated in the Hotel Program, costing over $70.5 million, according to court documents.

As of mid-September, 179 households remain in the program. Seventy-six of those are linked to a permanent housing program, five are waiting for repairs on their own homes, 94 are working with the Temporary Disaster Assistance Program (TDAP) and four no longer receive DHS payments.

The program’s funding was provided by FEMAbecause the city “does not have a budget to support the Hotel Program,” said the papers.

Originally, the program was set to stop by May 31. The decision was taken to court, and the initiative was extended to Monday, September 30, the date that FEMA funding will end. Program participants should be out that following Friday.

“For over ten months, the city has dedicated tremendous effort and resources to more than 3,000 individuals displaced by Sandy. As the court has recognized, the city cannot afford to single-handedly continue this program in the absence of FEMA funding,” said Michael Cardozo of the city Corporation Counsel. “All participating households without an exit plan may access DHS shelter, where social services staff will continue to work closely with the remaining households to identify suitable housing options.”

Court documents stated to continue the Hotel Program it would transfer the “financial burden” onto the city which “does not have a budgeted source of funds to operate” the initiative.



Queens’ Morning Roundup

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

morning roundup


Wednesday: Clear in the morning, then partly cloudy. High of 79. Winds from the WNW at 10 to 15 mph. Wednesday night: Partly cloudy. Low of 68. Winds from the West at 5 to 15 mph.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Good Ol’ Freda

Come to a preview screening and discussion of the new Beatles documentary “Good Ol’ Freda” with the subject Freda Kelly and director Ryan White at the Museum of the Moving Image on Wednesday, September 4 at 7 p.m. Freda Kelly was just a shy Liverpool teenager when she was asked to work for a local band hoping to make it big. In the documentary, Kelly, who was The Beatles’ devoted secretary for 11 years, tells her stories for the first time in five decades. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Final New York City mayoral debate focuses on front-runner

At 6-foot-5, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio presented a big target for his Democratic rivals to hurl attacks at during the final debate a week ahead of the mayoral primary. Read more: AP

Bloomberg sues over law easing suits vs. police

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is suing to try to block a law that would make it easier to sue the police department over stop & frisks or other actions people claim are discriminatory. Read more: AP

FEMA extends hotel stays for New York Sandy victims

Federal authorities have extended the amount of time New Yorkers can stay in hotels or motels if they can’t return to their homes because of damage from Sandy. Read more: NBC New York

Court officers’ union sues over defective body armor

They could be saving lives — if they were only tailored properly. Read more: New York Daily News 

Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro found dead in cell

The man serving a life prison term for kidnapping three women and repeatedly raping them in his home for nearly a decade has been found dead and is believed to have committed suicide, a prison official said. Read more: NBC News