Local leaders skeptical of grant program that promises lots of money — and even more talk • Brooklyn Paper

Local leaders skeptical of grant program that promises lots of money — and even more talk

Grassroots recovery: From left, Sheepshead Bay residents Dorothy Taylor, Lynna Cannisi, and Cathy Rodriguez talk with Barbara Beradelli, a planning committee member, at the New York Rising Community Restoration Program meeting on Oct. 7 in Sheepshead Bay.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Local leaders are unimpressed by the decision to include Mill Basin, Marine Park, and Canarsie in a program that will invest more than $16 million in the area’s vital infrastructure to make it more storm-resistant, because residents will first have to put their mouths where the money is.

The first step in unlocking the promised cash from the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Fund will be a series of community brainstorming sessions, followed by six months of public hearings, committee meetings, and focus groups, before anyone will even know how what project will get funding. Its a process that worry will amount to little more that a waste of time and money.

“I’ve taken part in several studies and focus groups,” said Community Board 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano. “But, at the end of the day, the only thing that gets done is a 40-page report that leads nowhere.”

Turano said CB18 members are so jaded when it comes to government-funded studies that the board would not participate in the drawn-out discussions.

“We refuse to take part in studies,” said Turano. “We want action.”

Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Canarsie), who has been to his share of public meetings following the catastrophic landfall of Hurricane Sandy, seems to know the feeling.

“All the meetings we had with FEMA, four or five, they were all wastes of time,” said Masiel. “They weren’t really listening to us, and I don’t think anything got resolved.”

But the newly minted councilman pointed out that launching major infrastructure projects without extensive public consultation can lead to local backlash.

“They hold the meetings because, if they didn’t, they get yelled at,” said Maisel.

One reason for NY Rising’s community outreach goes beyond merely public hearings. The aim of the initial brainstorming meetings is to get public input on local needs and find out what infrastructure projects residents would like to see funded, and then have experts in urban planing and civil engineering work with them to draft project proposals. Those will be sent to Gov. Cuomo’s office, which will then allocate funding the $4,383,732 earmarked for Mill Basin and Marine Park, and the $11,944,036 for Canarsie.

Local leaders from neighborhoods already participating in the program say the process does have merit.

“A lot of the people on the planning team are superb at what they do,” said Community Board 15 chairwoman Theresa Scavo. “The consultants are very educated in their fields of expertise, very qualified.”

Scavo is a part of the committee formed to provide suggestions for NY Rising projects in Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach. Still, she has no illusions that the local group will have any real power over actual spending decisions.

“My opinion is no, we don’t have the final say,” she said. “The committee makes a recommendation based on what the committee believes is the most needed thing at this point. My guess is that someone in the governor’s office will ultimately make the final decision.”

Scavo also concedes the repeated public-input events held since the process began at the end of September — where anyone from a given community is invited to share their opinion — can still leave people wondering if they’ve really been heard.

“They’re tired of sitting at meetings hearing what’s going to happen,” said Scavo. “I understand fully. They want action.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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