Tag Archives: superstorm sandy

Cuomo seeks Breezy Point elevation study, signs bill blocking ‘red tape’


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo via Twitter/@NYGovCuomo

Along with signing a bill to keep “red tape” from strangling continued efforts to recover from Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in Breezy Point on Friday that the state would embark on an elevation study for the area.

Located on the western tip of the Rockaway Peninsula, Breezy Point was one of the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The neighborhood was flooded by the superstorm’s surge, and over 100 homes were destroyed by a wind-fueled inferno that firefighters were unable to reach and fight.

The community is still recovering nearly three years later, Cuomo noted, and the state is working to help fortify the shoreline with stronger dunes and seawalls. Even so, with weather patterns changing across the globe, the governor stressed that further planning and preparation are needed to prevent a repeat of Sandy’s destruction.

“I would love to be able to say to you that Sandy was one in a million and it’s never going to happen again. The problem is, I don’t believe that,” Cuomo said. “We are seeing weather patterns we have never seen before…I don’t care what you call it, but let’s prepare for it.”

Cuomo said he would seek funding for an elevation study to examine Breezy Point and see “what it would take to actually elevate the homes to a point where, if this happens again, we don’t have the same type of damage.”

“Let’s build back, but let’s build back better than before,” Cuomo added.

In the interim, Cuomo penned on Friday a bill granting a two-year extension to legislation waiving the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) requirements for Breezy Point homeowners still rebuilding their damaged properties. The bill — sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder and state Senator Joseph Addabbo — releases homeowners from being subject to an extensive review process that could take up to 18 months to complete.

Cuomo initially signed the bill in 2013, and last year penned his signature to a one-year extension. Goldfeder hopes that this two-year extension will allow Breezy Point “to finally nip this thing in the bud.”

“Nobody in Breezy Point has to worry about the red tape,” he said.

“We have businesses that are coming back. We have people coming back to their homes,” Addabbo added. “We are moving forward, but there is so much more to do.”

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Volunteers restore salt marshes of Alley Pond Park


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of the Natural Areas Conservancy

A volunteer effort on Saturday organized by the Natural Areas Conservancy worked to restore the salt marsh of Alley Pond Park.

More than 30 people of all ages attended the event from all over the city and even Nassau County. An entire 20-foot dumpster was filled with debris after the first cleanup stage, primarily with lumber fallen during major storms.

After clearing out the targeted area, participants planted native grasses in the site, which has suffered severe damage from scattered debris and trash from storms such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Over 1,000 grass plants were transplanted into the ground as part of the revitalization effort.

The new vegetation was specially chosen because it can adapt to live in salt water and flooded conditions, and the area will provide a habitat for local wildlife and add recreational value to the community.

Alley Pond Park is the second largest park in Queens, and has varied natural features such as freshwater and saltwater wetlands, tidal flats, meadows and forests. It is named for The Alley, a commercial and manufacturing center which had been located there during the 18th century.

The Natural Areas Conservancy is an nonprofit organization that works with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to protect, restore and manage expansive natural areas already within the city’s urban park system.


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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.

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MTA to award $236.5M contract to rebuild Queens Midtown Tunnel


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of MTA Bridges and Tunnels/Mark Valentin

One of the city’s tunnel systems is expected to get a much-needed face-lift after being heavily damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that the MTA is expected to award a four-year, $236.5 million contract to rebuild the Queens Midtown Tunnel, which since the 2012 hurricane has been operating with temporary repairs. Around 40 percent of the length of tunnel was submerged in 12 million gallons of salt water during the storm.

The contract, which will be completed with Judlau Contracting Inc., was approved by the MTA Bridges and Tunnels Committee on Monday and is expected to be approved by the full MTA board on Wednesday.

“Superstorm Sandy demonstrated the need for our infrastructure to be safer, stronger and more resilient to meet the challenge of extreme weather, and today, we’re taking another important step in that direction,” Cuomo said. “The Queens Midtown Tunnel is a vital part of the transportation network for the entire metropolitan area, and by undertaking this aggressive renovation we can rebuild from the damage caused by Sandy and ensure that it is protected from future storms.”

Work on the tunnel is expected to begin in the summer and will likely result in nighttime and weekend tube and lane closures. A majority of the work is Sandy-related and will also include several capital projects to try to organize the work and minimize the amount of closures impacting traffic.

Some of the Sandy-related repair and restoration work includes replacing the electrical, lighting, communications, monitoring and control systems in the tunnel. Restoration and mitigation work will also be done at the tunnel’s mid-river pump room.

“This investment in the Midtown Tunnel rehabilitation will restore the roadway to its pre-Sandy state while minimizing disruptions and delays and prioritizing the safety of commuters,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney said.

Structural work at the tunnel includes the replacement of catwalks, duct banks, wall tiles, ceiling finishes, polymer panels, curbs and gutters.

The tunnel is also expected to get new roadway LED lighting and clearly marked exit signs, lights and emergency phones.

Capital projects include replacing the fire line system in both tubes, and a complete rehabilitation of the Manhattan Exit Plaza, including the 36th Street ramp where full and partial repairs will be done.

“When Sandy flooded the Queens Midtown Tunnel with millions of gallons of water, our crews worked valiantly to make immediate repairs and get traffic moving again,” said James Ferrara, MTA Bridges and Tunnels president. “Now we need to fully repair the damage and fortify the tunnel to be more resilient for the future.”

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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.”

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New bills proposed by state Sen. Avella would address abandoned homes


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Abandoned homes have been a problem in Queens neighborhoods since Superstorm Sandy and the recession. But a breakaway group of state Senate Democrats, including Senator Tony Avella, has introduced a proposal they claim will solve much of the problem.

A bill they’ve called the “Zombie Property Act” would force lenders, including banks, to maintain abandoned homes in New York so that neighborhoods are not dotted with dilapidated properties abandoned by the owners and taken over by mortgage holders.

The measure is one of several bills that are being put forward by the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, of which Avella is one of five members, as part of the group’s “Invest New York” agenda.

“We’re catching squatters and kids going in these abandoned homes,” said Joe Thompson, who runs a civilian patrol in Howard Beach. The neighborhood is ailed with dozens of destroyed homes that were abandoned after Sandy.

“These squatters are getting in there and doing drugs and high school aged kids are putting graffiti all over the place,” Thompson said. The homes pose a danger to people in the area, he said, and they also severely reduce the value of neighboring homes.

“It was kind of like their playhouse,” he said. Last year Thompson tackled the problem by investing his own money in cleaning and maintaining a home on 155th Avenue and 77th Street. He boarded the windows, cleaned the surrounding lawn and even enlisted another resident to power wash the walls.

If the zombie bill, which is co-sponsored by Avella, passes, lenders that hold mortgages on the abandoned properties would be given the responsibility of doing what Thompson is doing.

“These abandoned homes are a waste of resources that could be developed into great things,” Avella said.

Within the Invest New York agenda, Avella will be tasked with pushing through bills that address paid family leave, providing affordable housing for veterans and a proposal that would grant seniors a 10 percent discount on any DMV transaction.

“I’ve always worked toward these things,” Avella said. “This will help people because these are people issues.”

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Build it Back looking to speed up and localize Sandy recovery process


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The new Build it Back program is adding staff and hiring new construction managers in a bid to speed up the Superstorm Sandy recovery process.

The program is now hiring up to three new construction management firms for Sandy-stricken areas, hoping to increase the number of rebuilding projects getting underway. Along with hiring new managers, Build it Back is also looking to hire a local workforce of low-income residents who were affected by the storm to be part of the rebuilding process.

“This new procurement hits two of the city’s recovery goals: expanding our construction capacity to meet the needs of homeowners as quickly as possible and expanding our local workforce initiative to keep construction jobs within Sandy-affected communities,” said Amy Peterson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery. “Since the mayor’s overhaul, this has been a year of significant progress, and we expect the onboarding of new construction firms – who will deploy new strategies to target entire neighborhoods – will continue to accelerate the city’s Sandy recovery.”

There will be separate competitions for the new construction managers in the three boroughs hit by Sandy: Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens. The city will hire up to three new firms, one for each borough if possible, that will focus on specific neighborhoods within each borough.

Once hired, the construction managers will sign a contract with a clause that will encourage them to have at least 20 percent of employees be Sandy-impacted residents. They will have to provide the city with full-time staff member tracking to make sure it is in compliance with the Sandy Recovery Hiring Program.

For the possible Sandy-impacted workers, they will be given job training and then have a chance at an apprenticeship to work on the construction team.

As the process moves along, construction managers will be asked to “bundle” homes that have much of the same structural damage in a particular neighborhood to deliver a higher volume of completed projects.

When the new system came in at the beginning of the year, there was no construction started. Now, there have been 933 rebuilding projects started and over 1,951 reimbursement checks given out totaling $34 million throughout the city.

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Hamilton Beach boardwalk project close to completion


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

The final steps of the new Hamilton Beach boardwalk are being constructed and it could be opening up soon.

The “boardwalk,” which will now be a cement path connecting Hamilton Beach to Old Howard Beach, has been fully paved and railings have been installed, according to Councilman Eric Ulrich’s office, which is overseeing the plans.

The main portion of the project has been done by the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). The last remaining portion of it, which is to add the ramp connecting the train station to the boardwalk, has to be done in partnership with the MTA since they own that portion of the land.

Work started on the path in May and was scheduled to finish by the end of September, but building the ramp has prolonged this process.

“There are a couple of little things left to be done,” said Redmond Haskins, a representative from Ulrich’s office. “But the large portion of the project is completed.”

There is no set date for the opening as the office is still trying to figure out the plans with the MTA.

The boardwalk stretches about 2,000 feet and is used as the main walkway for residents in Hamilton Beach to get to and from the A-train station in Old Howard Beach. It was in disrepair for many years but became totally unusable when Superstorm Sandy hit the area.

Since 2012, residents have had a longer and more dangerous walk to the train because they have to travel on a street without a sidewalk to get out of the neighborhood.

The MTA did not immediately respond for a request of comment on the issue.

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Abandoned home in Howard Beach cleaned up


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

After Superstorm Sandy hit, many houses in Howard Beach were destroyed, leaving homeowners who couldn’t pay for the repairs in a bind.

Now, some of those homes sit in the same condition they were in after the storm, abandoned and deteriorating.

During his nightly patrol on Nov. 11, Joe Thompson of the Howard Beach Civilian Observation Patrol (COP) noticed that one of these abandoned, Sandy-damaged homes had its door kicked in. He has been keeping a watchful eye on this house, on 155th Avenue and 78th Street in Lindenwood, because he knew the owners do not live there anymore.

He exited his patrol car, checked the house from the outside for any activity and then closed the door and secured it.

Thompson, realizing that the fact that no one lives at the house makes it a potential site for squatters, got in touch with some of the neighbors to see if they knew the whereabouts of the homeowner so he could get in contact with them. He was able to get a phone number and called the homeowner to ask for permission to secure the house to deter squatters from coming in.

The owners left for Florida because of the conditions of the house and their lack of money to fix it, according to Thompson. The windows had garbage bags on them, graffiti was drawn on the house, weeds were growing rapidly and there was a greenish tint on the side paneling of the house from the nearby tree.

“It hurts my heart to see someone’s home damaged and them not be able to do anything about it,” Thompson said.

After getting the OK, he went to the house with his patrol and started working on Nov. 15. They trimmed the weeds, took measurements of the windows on the first floor and went to Home Depot to buy the supplies with their own money.

The next day they came back and boarded up the windows and doors, making sure the property was secure and lessening the chance for any illegal activity to occur there.

“I know how it hurts when you don’t have any money to fix your home,” said Thompson, who had to move from his home when it was destroyed in Superstorm Sandy. “We are here to help the community and the residents here, and this is one way we were able to.”

Even though they already secured the home, Thompson and his team are going one step further. They will be coming back with a power washer to clean the greenish tint from the panels and try to wipe away the graffiti, making the home less of an eyesore for residents who live nearby. He’s also in the process of surveying Howard Beach for any other abandoned homes.

“This is what we do,” he noted. “We want to help get this neighborhood’s quality of life back.”

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Flushing firm awarded $282M to repair Sandy-damaged Hugh L. Carey Tunnel


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of MTA Bridges and Tunnels

A third-generation Flushing construction firm was awarded a contract worth $282.5 million to repair the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel from damage it suffered during Superstorm Sandy.

Tully Construction beat out 24 companies for the contract to work on the former Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The contract is the largest ever awarded to a construction company from the MTA Bridges and Tunnels division, the organization announced Monday.

The project is expected to take four years.

“We learned just how vital the HLC Tunnel is to the region in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy flooded the tunnel with approximately 60 million gallons of brackish water, compromising the life safety systems in the tunnel,” MTA Bridges and Tunnels President James Ferrara said. “This project will increase the level of resiliency against future weather events.”

Tully Construction will replace the traffic control and communications systems, add new lighting, replace the drainage system, do concrete repairs, add new wall titles, rehabilitate the Brooklyn toll plaza, repave the tunnel, and conduct a clean-up of salt, oil and other contaminants from Sandy flooding.

$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.

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Sandy vigil held in Hamilton Beach to mark two-year anniversary


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Hamilton Beach was one of the areas hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy and two years later, some residents are still not back in their homes.

On the storms’s anniversary Wednesday, the neighborhood came together for a candle light vigil to support those who are still displaced and give thanks to all those who helped during the harsh times.

“In our community, Sandy brought out the best of our people,” said Roger Gendron, president of the Hamilton Beach Civic Association. “Groups that came into help two years ago are still here helping today. It has been a constant flow of generosity.”

The vigil was held at the West Hamilton Beach Fire Department, a group that was and is “a vital life line to the community,” Gendron remarked. Over 50 residents, and local and city officials were present to take a moment of silence for all those who are still affected by the aftermath of the storm.

“If anything good came from the storm it was that it showed the strong sense of community,” Councilman Eric Ulrich said. “We will be here every year lighting candles until everyone in this community that was displaced is back in their home.”

The ceremony was led by Father Anthony Rucando of Our Lady of Grace Parish. He led the residents of the neighborhood in a tearful prayer ceremony that was joined by the director of Build It Back, Amy Peterson.

“I am inspired everyday by the strength of communities like yours,” Peterson said. “We are doing everything we can and are committed to moving you forward in the process.”

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Sandy recovery process highlighted at town hall in the Rockaways


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

It’s been two years since Superstorm Sandy ravaged southern Queens and though the recovery process is slow, it is moving in the right direction, city officials said at a town hall meeting in Rockaway.

“We are approaching the two-year anniversary of Sandy and still people are struggling,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich. “We wanted to give the community a chance to hear about the recovery process and ask their questions directly to the city agencies.”

The meeting, which was hosted by Ulrich and Councilman Donavan Richards at Beach Channel High School in Rockaway on Oct. 27, provided updates on the state of the Rockaway boardwalk, ferry service, street and light repairs, Build It Back numbers, FEMA insurance and other programs presented by representatives of the DOT, EDC, DEP, Parks Department, Build It Back and the Mayor’s office.

“Sandy highlighted many of the vulnerabilities that we had in the city,” said Dan Zarrilli, director of Recovery and Resiliency in the Mayor’s Office.

He added that his agency is working on strengthening coastal defenses through sand replenishment and bulkhead expansion while also lobbying the federal government to keep FEMA insurance at an affordable price for residents.

Amy Peterson, director of Build It Back, said that even though the agency is not where it needs to be, much progress has been made. Since January, there have been 750 construction starts and 1,000 checks issued throughout the city.

When it came to the DEP, Emily Lloyd, director of the agency, said they inspected 51 miles of storm sewers on the Rockaway peninsula running from Arverne to Neponsit and added that there was minimal damage to the water mains in the area.

She also said that the agency is working on minimizing the crude smell of the Rockaway Wastewater Treatment Plant, located on Beach 107th Street and Beach Channel Drive, via odor control and an upgraded filtration system but said there will never be absolutely no smell.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver gave a much-anticipated update on the Rockaway boardwalk. He said that the construction of the boardwalk, which was started in April, will be finished by Memorial Day of 2017. He added that when finished this boardwalk will “rival all others in the world.”

The DOT, represented by Queens Borough Commissioner Dalila Hall, has allotted $2 million for resurfacing work throughout southern Queens. Hall also said the agency is diligently repairing street lights and traffic signals, which were damaged from Sandy, and is working on getting Select Bus Service to the Rockaways as the need for transportation became so apparent in the wake of the storm.

Finally, Kyle Kimball, president of NYCEDC, gave news that met with much uproar from residents. The Rockaway ferry service, which was put in as a temporary transportation method after Superstorm Sandy, will be ending this month. He mentioned that the $5 million a year it would take to run the service was not in the city’s budget.

Councilman Richards said that even though the city still has a long way to go in the recovery process is still a long way to go, two years after the storm hit, progress has been made.

“Our communities still need repairs,” Richards noted. “But the stronger we remain together, the more likely the entire community will be rebuilt.”

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Sandy-stricken trees to be cut down in Howard Beach


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Salvatore Licata

Dead trees are a common sight in Howard Beach — a constant reminder of the devastation the neighborhood faced nearly two years ago when Hurricane Sandy ripped its way through the area.

But the neighborhood will now witness an arboreal upheaval as the Parks Department moves to uproot and replace a virtual forest of trees.

“Several hundred street trees damaged by Hurricane Sandy in Community Board 10 are slated to be removed and replaced,” said Meghan Lalor, a representative from the Parks Department. “Any tree that was marked for removal was considered to be dead or in such decline that it would not be able to recover to full health.”

The trees and their stumps will be removed entirely and will later be replaced by new trees. Each tree that is slated for removal has an “X” marked on its trunk. The removal process for many of them will take place from Sept. 15 to Sept. 19.

sandy_1

Soon after Hurricane Sandy, the Parks Department went out to survey the storm’s effect on the city’s trees.

The Parks Department looked at about 48,000 trees citywide, and categorized each of them by their leaf coverage. Since then, the department has been monitoring the trees’ leaf coverage and behavior throughout the growing seasons, which has helped identify which trees should be axed.

The exact number of trees to be cut down in Community Board 10 has yet to be determined. Parks is still surveying the neighborhoods to make sure all of the problematic trees are reached.

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Build it Back numbers improve in Howard Beach


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Even though residents of Howard Beach have been frustrated with the Build it Back process, numbers are moving in the right direction for the neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that there have been 535 construction starts and that 543 reimbursement checks have been distributed to Hurricane Sandy victims in the city, thus exceeding his Labor Day goals of 500 constructions starts and 500 checks handed out.

On a smaller level, numbers in area code 11414, which includes Lindenwood, Howard Beach, Old Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach, are also on the rise.

Out of the approximate 1,200 active Build it Back applicants in 11414, 95 have received checks and 60 have started construction, according to a representative from the mayor’s office. There are also 139 applicants who have finished construction plan consultations and 564 who have formally been made an assessment offer, the representative added.

These numbers were at zero in the beginning of the year.

Over the past few months, the mayor’s office has overhauled the Build it Back process, allowing applications to move more fluidly through the program.

This overhaul includes putting senior city staff members in charge of Build it Back centers and case management, and allowing homeowners to consult with designers and architects earlier in the process, making construction scheduling easier, the representative said.

“It was simply unacceptable that not a single homeowner had gotten relief as of the beginning of this year,” de Blasio said. “We know there’s much more work ahead — and we’re committed to continuing to speed up recovery so that every homeowner gets the relief they need.”

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