South Brooklyn storm resiliency projects make little headway

The Kings Highway Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library will be outfitted with solar power and back up batteries as part of the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Plan.
Photo by Google

South Brooklyn civic gurus are furious that storm preparedness projects commissioned by state resiliency officials back in 2014 remain stuck in design six-years later. 

“They are still in the design phase? It’s been six years,” said Community Board 15 Chairwoman Theresa Scavo. “What’s been going on?” 

After Superstorm Sandy devastated southern Brooklyn in 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo funneled millions towards hurricane-battered communities through the state’s New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program– which launched a series of community outreach initiatives from 2013 through 2014 that asked residents to nominate a range of projects that would bolster storm preparedness. 

Four construction were selected by residents living within Community Board 15 — which includes Gerritsen Beach and Sheepshead Bay — three of which remain in design. They include:

  • A $2.7 million retrofit to enhance the structural integrity of the Gerritsen Beach Fire Department at 52 Seba Ave., being constructed in partnership with the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. 
  • $1.4 million worth of new solar panels and batteries for four local community centers, including Brooklyn Public Library’s Gerritsen Beach and Kings Highway branches, the Gerritsen Beach Fire Department, and Kings Bay Youth
  • $2.2 million resiliency improvements to the Kings YM-YWHA, the scope of which has not been finalized

The remaining infrastructure project, a scheme to install check valves to prevent sewage backup at homes throughout the area, has enjoyed substantial progress and is due for completion in spring 2020. However, Scavo noted that the valve project was originally supposed to be available to all property owners on demand, but has been scaled back significantly to only benefit low-income residents.

“It was supposed to be if you requested it and wanted it in your home,” said Scavo. “We were never told a thing about income being considered.”

Sheepshead Bay resident Cliff Bruckenstein chalked up the delays to a lack of communication between the city agencies involved in the project and said the Kings Bay YM-YWHA hasn’t seen a dime of the state’s allocated funds. 

“The Kings Bay YM-YWHA has not seen any of that money,” said Bruckenstein. “They did all of the paperwork right away and were hoping to complete the project with another planned renovation – and it didn’t turn out that way.” 

And frustration over the slow pace of construction is compounded by revelations that the governor’s office ignored the community’s advice on where to install solar panels as part of their emergency power plan. 

Civic gurus say they advised officials to outfit local grocery stores with solar panels, but the state opted instead to include two libraries in their backup power program. The result, according to Scavo, is that residents will have access to the latest reads, but not fresh food when the next Superstorm Sandy makes landfall.

“So I can rush and go get a book in the storm?” Scavo quipped. “The idea was that Gerritsen Beach residents had a hard time bouncing back from the storm. Even getting milk or a loaf of bread, they were caught against a wall, so if you installed power backups at these service facilities it would help a lot of people.”

The resiliency projects are being funded by a mix of state and federal grants, which subject the projects to a federal deadline of Sept. 2022, and a rep for the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery insisted the agency is on track to meet that cutoff date. 

“We remain committed to the successful implementation of these projects and will continue to work with local partners to bring them to fruition,” said Alana Agosto. 

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