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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.

What We're Watching: 1/4/13

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At the end of each week, we post a "What We’re Watching" blog as we look ahead to the weekend and recap events from the week. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

New Year – Get Prepared

With the start of a new year, many of us have once again made a resolution to live a more healthy life, shop less and save more, donate to a charitable organization, among many others. And although it’s sometimes difficult to keep the momentum after the first couple of weeks in the New Year, why not make a few small and simple changes to help you and your loved ones prepare for an emergency?


Disasters can strike anywhere, at any moment, so it’s important to make sure you and your families are prepared. Here are a few simple tips to help get you prepared should an emergency occur:

  • Set a monthly reminder in your calendar to test your home’s smoke alarms – the first of every month in your personal or work calendar can serve as a great reminder to test your smoke alarms. While you’re testing your smoke alarm, practice your emergency escape plan. After all, practice makes perfect.
  • Be Informed and Make a Plan - Not all communities in a state or territory share the same risks, so it’s important to learn what to do should a disaster strike in your area. Visit www.ready.gov for a list of tips on staying safe before, during and after a disaster. Once you’ve learned the facts, make a family emergency plan. Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes, so it's important to know how you will contact one another, where you will meet up and what you will do in case of an emergency.   Don’t forget about making plans for your pets – they are important members of the family too.
  • Pick up one item for your emergency kit on each of your shopping runs – building your family’s emergency kit doesn’t need to happen in one fell swoop. Pick up canned food, bottled water, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, and other recommended emergency items over the first month or two of the year, that way you spread the cost of building your emergency supply kit.

Keeping our New Year resolutions can be difficult, but taking these steps to help keep you and your family members safe can be fun and simple.

Winter Is Upon Us

As we move further into the winter months and old man winter continues to rear his (sometimes) ugly head, I wanted to take a moment to remind of some tips for staying safe this winter.

  • Have an emergency kit in your vehicle – if a winter storm develops suddenly, have supplies on hand in case you’re stranded in your vehicle. Some items to include in your kit include:
    • Flashlight with extra batteries
    • Water
    • Blanket
    • Adequate clothing such as gloves, hat, scarf, and extra clothes
  • Take precautions for power outages – winter storms often cause power outages, so be sure your family and home take steps to sustain yourselves for at least 72 hours and be sure you have winter weather supplies such as:
    • Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways
    • Sand to improve traction on exterior walkways
    • Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment
  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary. If you have to travel, be sure to let someone know your destination, expected arrival time and the route you’re taking.
  • Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
  • Practice safe snow removal - moving snow can be strenuous, so take breaks and make sure to give your body a rest.  Overworking yourself in cold weather can put extra strain on your heart.

Familiarize yourself with winter weather terms often used to identify a winter storm hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued:

  • Freezing Rain creates a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
  • Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Weather Advisory means cold, ice and snow are expected.
  • Winter Storm Watch means severe weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible in the next day or two. Follow local news reports and be alert to changing weather conditions.
  • Winter Storm Warning means severe winter conditions have begun or will begin very soon. Stay indoors during the storm and avoid traveling.
  • Blizzard Warning means heavy snow and strong winds will produce a blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts and life-threatening wind chill.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning means below freezing temperatures are expected.

Visit www.ready.gov/winter-weather for a more complete list of what to do before, during and after winter weather and extreme cold.

Happy New Year!

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