Sandy Victims Getting Restless Over Recovery Planning

Categories: Hurricane Sandy

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Reverend Michael Deer, a pastor from Far Rockaway, speaking at yesterday's press conference.
Nearly two and a half months after Sandy devastated New York City, there are still residents in affected areas without reliable heat and electricity. And while governmental reports on just what went wrong and how to plan for the future are beginning to trickle out, New Yorkers are starting to get restless.

This week, Governor Cuomo's utilities commission issued a damning report on the performance of the Long Island Power Authority and other utilities in the storm.

At the heart of New Yorker's vulnerability to storm outages, the report concluded, is lousy regulation:

"The six utilities operating in NY and LIPA operate as natural monopolies in their own exclusive service areas with no risk of losing all or part of the territory because of toothless government oversight."

The commission recommends that the government actually start checking at least every five whether utilities are being properly managed and operated -- something that apparently the state hadn't bothered to do before the storm.

It also recommends that LIPA, the state-run authority that failed so catastrophically after Sandy, be privatized. So a state utility so badly neglected by Cuomo that he couldn't even be bothered to fill the half-dozen vacant seats on its board will now be auctioned off to become yet another example of what Cuomo's commission concedes is an environment of "natural monopolies." To some ears, that might smack as disaster capitalism, but the commission argues that it's cheaper than asking the state to actually run LIPA well.

Meanwhile, there's been nary a peep from the planning group Bloomberg trumpeted at a grand unveiling in December.

That group, which includes Economic Development Corporation head Seth Pinsky and Goldman Sachs Vice President Marc Ricks, is supposedly tasked with developing "a concrete recovery plans for the communities Sandy hit hardest as well as a specific and comprehensive action plan to prepare our city for the climate risks we face," but residents of affected neighborhoods say they haven't heard anything from the group, and certainly haven't been invited to any meetings.

Concerned that recovery planning isn't happening fast enough -- or that it might be happening without them -- a coalition of community and faith groups, unions, and activists to rally on the steps of City Hall yesterday, calling for a more transparent, democratic, and community-driven rebuilding process.

"We are concerned that very few members of our communities are represented on these commissions, said Matt Ryan, executive director of the Alliance for a Greater New York.

"We are calling one for immediate relief for residents who are displaced from their homes, who are without power, and are dealing with increasingly serious mold epidemic problems. But moving forward, our alliance is calling on officials to build sustainable infrastructure that addresses economic inequality and unemployment and includes all New Yorkers, our communities, in a transparent process."

Reverend Michael Deer, the pastor of Alive Ministries in Far Rockaway, agreed: "We want to be sure that members of the hardest-hit communities have a seat at the table," he said.

The alliance is so far taking a non-confrontational approach to voicing it's concerns. But as residents of storm-damaged areas are emerging from the immediate fight for survival to contemplate what the future holds, the group's message is clear.

"As the recovery process continues," Rev. Deer said, "we will be watching how our region uses precious rebuilding resources."

[npinto@villagevoice.com] [@macfathom]

Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.



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