Saving $1 Million on the Waterfront

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Brian Robbins grandfather, Harry, started making paper bags with a folding machine in his garage in 1935. As a child, Robbins’ father would ride his bicycle to hand out flyers to promote business. In 1940, Harry had the good fortune to meet a wooden pail maker – someone who made wooden shipping crates – who introduced him to corrugated boxes.

Many years later, the family operation went on to become Cornell Paper & Box Company, a $14 million-a-year business located on Brooklyn’s historic waterfront in Red Hook. Even on a cloudy day, one can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, raising her torch in the mist.

The company no longer manufactures paper products, but buys and distributes corrugated boxes throughout the U.S. Brian has been running the business for the last 15 years with his father and for much of that time has watched nervously as the water, which in some areas is about 15 feet from his 150-year-old brick warehouse, eroded the shoreline. In early 2000, the pier outside the warehouse finally collapsed.

Brian said he knew it was a matter of time before the erosion would make the building vulnerable to a huge storm, like a Nor’easter. He was concerned that one of the walls would easily be knocked right out with the force of a surge.

When Hurricane Sandy inundated Red Hook with floodwaters in October, Robbin’s warehouse took a huge hit – but not as bad as it might have been had he not initiated a major mitigation project. Four years earlier, trucking in 1,500 cubic yards of armored stone, Robbins spent half a million dollars to build riprap, an embankment of large stones to prevent erosion, and a retaining wall to protect his property. Even though the low-lying land was covered in about five feet of water after Sandy, flooding the warehouse, Robbins says things would have been a lot worse. He had no doubt the outer wall would have been knocked out had he not prevented the erosion from continuing.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a bulk head wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a bulk head wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a stone wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a stone wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Robbins started the project in early 2008 and finished by September of 2010. Robbins joked that he had to get approvals from every government agency in existence. In the middle of it, the financial markets crashed and he spoke with his father about whether it was the best time to go forward. But he decided it HAD to be done or he’d be in worse shape, if a major storm hit. 

Even with the mitigation effort, one wall of the warehouse sustained a huge crack that will cost about $270,000 to repair. Cleanup will run another $400,000. In addition, the flooding inundated about $900,000 worth of soggy boxes. His flood insurance will cover $500,000 to repair the building and another $500,000 for damaged inventory. (Flood insurance coverage for business is different than coverage for individual homeowners, which tops out at $250,000 for structures and $100,000 for contents).


Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Workers at local Red Hook business Cornell Paper and Box Company, continue cleanup of boxes inside the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Workers at local Red Hook business Cornell Paper and Box Company, continue cleanup of boxes inside the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Local Red Hook business, Cornell Paper and Box Company, continues cleanup of boxes at the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Local Red Hook business, Cornell Paper and Box Company, continues cleanup of boxes at the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

To make up the difference, he will have to take out a half a million dollar low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (which also provides low-interest loans to homeowners to repair disaster damage). It will take a few months for Cornell to be able to house the paper inventory needed to bring business back to the way it was. In the meantime, Robbins is trying to make up the loss by renting out emptied areas of his warehouse for storage space, (one client is storing his motorcycles where stacks of cardboard usually sit). 

Even so, Robbins estimates that if he had not taken the mitigation measures, it would have cost him another million dollars out of pocket. Now the plan is to bring in another 400 tons of armored stone to replace what Sandy took away.

Robbins says that after making the repairs he’ll be even better protected for another storm. And save another million dollars – or more.

After a presidentially declared disaster, FEMA provides funding to the state for mitigation grants. For more information on applying for one, here is a link to HMGP FAQs.

Last Updated: 
01/11/2013 - 15:08
Posted on Fri, 01/04/2013 - 17:28
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