Under the direction of President Obama, the National Disaster Recovery Framework was created to identify an approach to recovery that would engage existing federal resources and incorporate the full capabilities of local and state entities for resilient recovery. An example of these efforts can be found in the Long Island Smart Growth Resilience Partnership, which is paving the way for Long Island to be a national model for sustainable, resilient infrastructure recovery and rebuilding. This game-changing initiative would not be possible without the innovative work of the New York Sandy Recovery Office’s (NYSRO) Community Planning and Capacity Building (CPCB) team and their local, state, federal and private sector partners.
Following Hurricane Sandy, FEMA’s CPCB recovery support function, along with EPA, New York State, Suffolk and Nassau counties and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, formed the Long Island Smart Growth Resilience Partnership. One of the primary goals of the partnership is to encourage economically, environmentally and socially sustainable development in low-risk areas away from flood zones and along transit corridors in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Through this unique partnership, FEMA is successfully coordinating with other agencies in leveraging collective resources and expertise to help Long Island communities engage in a more resilient, sustainable and equitable recovery.
A successful launchFormed in early 2013, the partnership was publicly launched in May 2014 when the NYSRO, in close collaboration with New York State, Nassau and Suffolk counties, MTA and federal partners at EPA, hosted a successful roundtable conference called “Accepting the Tide: A Roundtable Discussion on Integrating Smart Growth and Resilience on a Post-Sandy Long Island.” The event featured two prominent keynote speakers: Jamie Rubin, Director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and Steve Bellone, Suffolk County Executive. The conference was attended by more than 90 local elected officials, municipal employees, nonprofit workers and people affiliated with New York Rising’s designated Community Reconstruction Areas. New York Rising is a state program established to provide additional rebuilding and revitalization assistance to communities severely damaged by hurricanes Sandy and Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
One of CPCB’s primary missions is to build local and state capacity to better handle recovery without a large federal footprint. The roundtable was effective in building and maintaining local relationships important to a sustainable recovery.
Through the partnership, FEMA is leveraging the resources of other agencies, such as EPA, to provide local communities on Long Island with technical assistance and funding not available through FEMA’s traditional recovery programs. Using the National Disaster Recovery Framework as a starting point, FEMA staff developed an interagency agreement with EPA to fund important aspects of the partnership’s strategy. The financial commitment and coordination efforts of FEMA to incorporate smart growth into local recovery decision-making and rebuilding led to additional commitments, both financial and in-kind, from various other local, state, federal and non-profit agencies. This allowed the partnership to expand in scope and mission, bringing in members from additional New York State agencies, national nonprofits and local universities.
For instance, the partnership identified a need among Sandy-affected communities on Long Island for technical assistance around resilient building and zoning codes. While FEMA cannot directly provide this type of help, EPA has the programmatic infrastructure in place to provide such assistance through Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities, a steady-state program that provides local governments with technical assistance. Through an inter-agency agreement, FEMA committed $95,000 to have EPA use this program to help a Sandy-affected community in New York develop resilient building and zoning codes. Additionally, a joint EPA/FEMA guidance document will be developed for future use by other communities.
Another initiative in which the partnership is leveraging resources of multiple agencies is a Health Impact Assessment, which helps guide local governments in avoiding or resolving impacts on public health in their decision-making and actions. The partnership is conducting an assessment for Suffolk County on a local ordinance change that would impact on-site sewage systems and nearby wetlands. FEMA’s coordination efforts and financial commitment of $30,000 led to a major commitment by EPA of $75,000 plus a substantial in-kind donation of staff time with three EPA employees assigned to the project, making the assessment possible. The Health Impact Assessment team held a kickoff meeting in mid-December 2014, and held the first stakeholder meetings in March 2015.
Through further coordination and a $25,000 commitment, FEMA is leveraging commitments from EPA, Stony Brook University and the Nature Conservancy for Eco-System Services Valuation. In addition to in-kind staff support, EPA has committed an additional $45,000 from its Office of Research and Development. This project identifies and estimates economic benefits of natural resources, specifically key eco-systems on Long Island, helping guide communities as they make decisions on infrastructure projects.In January 2015, the partnership hosted a workshop on CommunityViz, a participatory scenario-planning tool for decision-making on smart growth. The week-long workshop, made possible by commitments from FEMA and EPA, provided valuable training to communities and recovery workers. The training integrated NOAA’s sea-level rise tool, EPA’s environmental justice indicators database, FEMA’s HAZUS and U.S. Census Bureau and local land-use data.
In disaster recovery, it is important to build on existing local and regional planning efforts. The partnership has defined an innovative recovery strategy that focuses on bringing smart growth, equitable development and resiliency principles into Long Island’s long-term recovery and provides a template from which future disaster operations can learn and work.
To learn more about the Long Island Smart Growth Resilience Partnership, check out EPA’s blog post: Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Resilience, Smart Growth and Equitable Development on Long Island.