NYC May Not Finish Sandy Repairs Before Next Storm Hits

Even though Superstorm Sandy feels like it hit ages ago — Obama was still campaigning for his second term, for crying out loud — it should come as no surprise that as we arrive at the fifth anniversary of the storm on Sunday, recovery efforts remain underway. Officials warned us at the time that it could be one of the most “expensive and extensive” storm recovery efforts in American history. And it has been, at least until the next one hits.

Just this week, researchers from Rutgers University found that New York City could experience Sandy-like storm surges every five years by the middle of the century. The implications would be vast and profound: If Sandy recovery efforts are any indicator, it means we wouldn’t even finish repairs from one storm before another knocked us back down again. Hopefully, the various stakeholders in the Sandy recovery efforts, from federal to state to local actors, have learned a great deal over the last five years, because the only certainty is that, at some point, we will have to do this all over again.

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Some projects to repair and upgrade both housing and transportation networks have gone better than expected, like the Montague Tube subway tunnel repairs that shut down the R train between Brooklyn and Manhattan for thirteen months but finished early and under budget. Others have not. Some haven’t even begun yet.


The New York City Housing Authority says some 80,000 residents in more than 400 buildings were “significantly affected” by Sandy. “Many,” the Authority goes on to say in a fact sheet published on October 17, “are still feeling the impact today.”

One big reason for the slow pace of repairs was that it took three years for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a $3 billion grant for the recovery work. That meant NYCHA couldn’t actually begin to use that money until this year. Work now being done at 33 developments across Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island includes repairs for Sandy damage, replacing temporary boilers installed after the storm with permanent ones, and resiliency work to prevent extensive damage and power outages in future storms. Of the 33 projects, 17 are currently under construction and one is completed. NYCHA expects to begin construction on the remaining projects by the end of the year; you can track their progress on the Authority’s website.

For private housing, in June 2013, Mayor Bloomberg announced the Build It Back Program, a city initiative to help homeowners build or renovate their homes because of damage from Sandy or elevate them to help stay above the next storm. The program, although well-intentioned, has been widely criticized for being slow and bureaucratic. On the third anniversary of Sandy, de Blasio promised to complete every construction project in Build It Back by the end of 2016. That didn’t happen. According to a recent ABC News report, “nearly 1,000 families are waiting for construction to be completed,” which is another way of saying their homes have still not been rebuilt from a storm that hit five years ago. De Blasio’s new target is to have all construction finished by the spring.

Breezy Point in the Rockaways lost 350 homes to storm surge and fire when Sandy struck on October 29, 2012.


Much of the MTA’s Sandy recovery work was a triumph. The storm hit on a Monday, and despite unprecedented flooding in every major tube, service on fifteen subway lines resumed that Thursday (albeit without service below 34th Street or between Manhattan and Brooklyn) and on most Metro-North lines the following day. It took only one week to restore full rush hour service across the system.

Still, a massive amount of work remained to actually repair the damage. Most of that work is now completed, but one East River tunnel yet to be fixed will be the biggest pain of all: Repairs on the Canarsie Tube will require the L train to shut down, beginning in April 2019 and lasting for fifteen months of misery for the 225,000 people who commute via the L across the river every weekday.

But the Canarsie Tube is not the next nor the last tunnel that needs repairing thanks to Sandy. Currently, 2 and 3 trains don’t run between Manhattan and Brooklyn on weekends as the MTA repairs the Clark Street Tube, work that started in the spring of this year and is expected to be completed in the spring of 2018. The agency also plans to close the F train’s Rutgers Tube on weekends starting in 2022 for similar repairs. And all that repair work says nothing of the “fortify” bit of the Fix & Fortify plan, which involves installing rapidly deploying covers over 5,600 street openings so stations don’t flood, and on which progress has been painfully slow.

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The MTA is also working on a thirty-mile section of the Metro-North Hudson Line, replacing and fortifying power, communication, and signal infrastructure. While service disruptions remain fairly minimal, the work is not expected to be completed until January.

The honor of the final Sandy recovery effort may go to Amtrak. The national rail agency recently announced it is planning to wait eight more freaking years to begin repairs to its East River tunnels, which are heavily used by the Long Island Rail Road. Apparently, the plan is to wait for the East Side Access project to be completed so LIRR trains have another route into Manhattan while the current tunnels are repaired. This is a bit like waiting for the apocalypse (the real one, not of the L train variety), as completion of the East Side Access has been repeatedly delayed: It was initially scheduled to be finished in 2009 — a whole three years before Sandy — but, after a series of pushbacks, is now set for 2023.

All this means that Amtrak doesn’t plan on repairing damage from Sandy until thirteen years after it hit. By then, it probably won’t even be designated Sandy repair work. It’ll be repairs for whatever the next storm is to strike by then.






Build It Back Is Sucking Hundreds of Millions Out of Other Vital Resiliency Projects

New York City Councilmembers spat criticism and frustration at members of the de Blasio administration yesterday after learning that the city’s Build It Back program is $500 million over budget and will now require the administration to shift taxpayer money from other vital resiliency projects to pay for it.

Councilmembers first learned of the issues with the Superstorm Sandy recovery initiative in a Wall Street Journal report published on Wednesday night.

“It is an outrage,” said councilmember Mark Treyger, chair of the resiliency and recovery committee. “It is unacceptable and insulting that this council was notified about these cost overruns literally at the eleventh hour.”

According to Build It Back’s director, Amy Peterson, $350 million earmarked for other storm resiliency projects in the city’s budget, which is funded by tax dollars, will help cover the overrun. The remaining $150 million, already spent on other Sandy resiliency efforts, will become ineligible for reimbursement by the federal government.

Peterson insisted that no other projects, including the planned seawall on Staten Island’s eastern shore, would suffer delays or changes from the funding shift, but couldn’t tell the committee exactly which programs the money would be drawn from within the budget.

Build It Back was intended to help at least 22,000 families when it was launched, according to Treyger. In the oversight meeting yesterday, he asked Peterson exactly how many New Yorkers had been helped thus far. She had no answer for him.

The Voice recently reported that there are about 8,640 applicants in the program, less than half of the original number; in typical disaster recovery efforts, about 50 percent of all applicants to similar programs end up benefitting from it, according to Peterson.

Mayor de Blasio initially pledged to complete the Build It Back program by the end of 2016, but some are concerned the rush has driven costs unreasonably high and encouraged disregard for safety protocols. In light of the cost overrun, Peterson said the mayor will soon announce new goals for the program, and pledged to work to meet his ambitious deadline.

The program helps New Yorkers either demolish and rebuild or elevate homes along the coast and in the floodplain that were badly damaged in the storm four years ago. The initiative blew through $270 million just making repairs on single-family homes, and residents have complained of frequent miscommunication. In June, a Build It Back home under construction in Gerritsen Beach collapsed. No one was injured.

Councilmember Donovan Richards expressed concerns that contractors might be taking advantage of the city’s rush to meet self-imposed deadlines and inflating the cost of their services as a result, comparing the practice to bootleg DVD sellers on Jamaica Avenue. He plainly asked Peterson if current construction costs — a Tishman Construction bid will reportedly cost $50 million to rebuild just 53 homes in Queens —was cost-effective.

“That is not cost-effective for the city of New York,” Peterson replied, and added that the city is trying to renegotiate the bid.

Residents, many of them elderly or whose first language is not English, have struggled with confusion and delays, some of them still living among boxes, awaiting relocation according to Treyger and councilmember Steven Matteo, who oversee Coney Island and a large swath of Staten Island, respectively.

“How long are we going to go through this?” asked Matteo. His constituents, he said, are “going through hell.”

Treyger asked if the administration would be willing to consider extending or softening deadlines imposed on homeowners, stressing that helping as many people as possible is more important than meeting deadlines in “some public relations victory.”

Peterson’s answer was, in effect, no.

“To move this program forward and help these homeowners, we need to establish deadlines,” she said. Specific hardship cases, such as families who struggle to find temporary housing for the length of construction, are considered for extensions and special accommodations on a case-by-case basis.

Peterson explained that delays and cost increases were the result of the complex job of elevating low-lying houses in areas such as Broad Channel and Edgemere, both in Queens. In some cases, homes are lifted off their foundations, only to reveal that they need to be rebuilt altogether before they can be elevated and the houses set back down. Attached homes are even more complex, and require cooperation from both homeowners, even if one is not enrolled in the program. Demolition and rebuilding, including approval of home design, takes time, too.

She cited a city construction boom as one reason for the ballooned contractor costs. In many cases the cost of repairing a house far exceeds its value, though rebuilding them is not always a cheaper alternative. The program is also spending more money to relocate families while their homes are repaired and help them with rent payments, and to offer buyouts or resettlement elsewhere in the city, outside of the floodplain.

You can read more about the city’s sometimes-contradictory waterfront policy in last week’s Voice.


Wild Arrows Weather the Storm…Finally

On a rainy Friday night in Greenpoint, Mike Law is trying to stay dry. As he unlocks the door to his apartment, the frontman of Wild Arrows, whose new record, Tell Everyone, will be released on vinyl December 9, remarks that the rain is fitting.

Indeed, though tragically so. Until November of 2012, Law was one of four co-owners of Gowanus recording collective The South Sound Studio. When Hurricane Sandy hit, the space, including the entirety of his studio, Translator Audio, was destroyed. The last time I saw Law, he was standing amid the wreckage, appealing to the universe to send him “a fucking hammer” so he and his friends could begin to rebuild.

See Also: Brooklyn’s South Sound Studio Completely Destroyed by Sandy

Since that day, over two years ago, that’s what Law has been attempting to do, though he does warn in an email that there is “no happy ending.” The four main partners of The South Sound had put almost everything they had, physically and financially, into the building. They finished construction a mere two weeks before Sandy.

The day of the hurricane, Law stayed at the studio sandbagging the roof until the elements, quite literally, tore it off. “You could feel the roof moving your body up and down because the wind was peeling it up,” he says. “It was beyond the level of stupid to stay up there.” When they reluctantly left, chased almost cinematically by the rising waters, Law says he knew that they wouldn’t be returning to anything.

He prediction came true; he awoke the next morning to a phone call stating simply: “It’s all gone.” Law called FEMA and began the long, frustrating process of dealing with governmental bureaucracy. “The initial reaction was ‘Fuck this, we’re going to rebuild,’ ” he says. ” ‘It’s just something we’re going to do.’ ”

Ultimately, that proved to be impossible. The first couple months were spent fighting with the landlord, being threatened with lawsuits, and dealing with a sense of communal loss. Once the landlord figured out the group’s finances had been devastated by the storm, they reached an agreement to simply return the space. The landlord promptly demolished the building.

The most frustrating thing for Law was the sense of having his hands tied by powers beyond his control. “I couldn’t accept that I couldn’t work my way out of it,” he says. He has looked into 128 buildings (he keeps detailed records) to relocate to, but says the price of real estate has almost quadrupled for industrial space since he was last in the market. After about 18 months it became apparent that recreating The South Sound in any form resembling its previous incarnation just wasn’t feasible.

Law says the damage caused by the storm has affected 60 people directly. Some had insured their gear; most hadn’t. He was in the former category. He says engineers who inspected the building told them flood insurance wasn’t necessary. Law himself lost around $130,000, and, in a matter of hours, was $50,000 in debt.

He also lost a record. An LP’s worth of material was housed on waterlogged hard drives. “I don’t feel that much attachment to things,” Law says, after casually remarking that his apartment had burned down a few years before.

Law decided to scrap most of the material for Tell Everyone he had written and recorded before the hurricane. “I was trying to make a really vicious record,” says Law. “Harnessing the most negative feelings that everyone has. The hurricane pushed me in that direction even more.”

Law and his drummer, Shiori Takenoshita, were stalled for months because they didn’t have instruments, a practice space, or any ability to record. “For a while, band practice were just going and hanging out,” says Law.

By July of 2013, nine months after the storm, they had assembled enough gear to begin writing Tell Everyone in a practice space. For someone who’d owned studios for more than a decade, it was a grating transition from The South Sound. A massive space filled with vintage gear, creative minds, and a sense of artistic autonomy shrank to one tiny, freezing room. There is no bass on the record, as it wasn’t possible to buy or record with one. “Building The South Sound was very intense,” Law says, “but recording this record was far more difficult.”

His practice space was so poorly soundproofed that Law would have to start his recording day at midnight when there were no other bands there. (Law notes with a black irony that the practice spaces at The South Sound were beautifully soundproofed.) All last winter, which was one of the coldest in recent memory, Law would leave Greenpoint wearing four layers of clothes, walk 35 minutes to his practice space, record until dawn, walk home, and go straight to work.

He says the schedule took its toll. “You don’t have a solid relationship with a significant other, you don’t see your family enough, you end up living in…well, this is a nice room,” he says, looking around his bedroom, “but you end up living in ways you wouldn’t normally live.” (Law’s studio apartment is modest: a minimally decorated room employing a box of his old misprinted LPs as a coffee table.) He finished the record because he “couldn’t tolerate the idea that some outside force could stop me from making it.”

When the record was finished, Law says, there wasn’t a Hallmark card-esque cathartic moment of letting go, “coming through the storm” being too simple a platitude to describe his feelings toward the last two years. “I thought that’s what would happen,” he says. “I thought that when it was done I would feel really satisfied. And I don’t feel that way. I just want to make something else.”

On first listening, you wouldn’t guess at the story behind Tell Everyone. The songs have a floating, pop-y quality until you absorb the lyrics, which take on liars and disease in numbers with titles like “Ruiner.” It’s an inherently dark record hiding behind gorgeous synth lines.

Law makes it clear that he doesn’t want sympathy and isn’t trying to sound purposely dramatic. “These are just things that actually happened,” he says. Law and Tell Everyone are testaments to the wild complexity of a life devoted to art, proof that a story doesn’t require a happy ending to inspire.

Wild Arrows play Rough Trade with HITS and Reputante on December 18. Doors 8 pm; show 8:30. $10, 21 and over.


Datebook Museums & Galleries VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To


We are all too familiar with natural disasters. As you read this, a volcano spews lava in Hawaii; two years ago, we were reeling from the punch of Superstorm Sandy; and in 2011, over 18,000 people died in a Japanese tsunami. It’s scary yet fascinating, as you will discover from the Museum of Natural History’s new exhibit, Nature’s Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters. In addition to revealing the causes of natural disasters, Nature’s Fury shows how people and communities cope when they are hit. Even more intriguing are the interactive displays, which allow visitors to monitor earthquakes worldwide in real time, generate a volcano, and stand in the center of a roaring tornado. As the exhibit reminds us, we’ve always lived on a dynamic planet, even before climate change.

Sat., Nov. 15, 10 a.m., 2014


Urban Fishing

A panel of speakers — including an urban planner, an assistant professor at NYU, and the president of the NY Harbor Foundation — will address the current issues facing New York’s fishing industry. A few topics the group will touch upon include promoting sustainable fishing in New York and what steps are being taken to create sustainable waterfronts in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

Wed., Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m., 2014



This is Rockaway, not Redondo. But Patti Smith is here nonetheless. It’s official: The queen of the downtown scene is kicking off MOMA PS1’s much-anticipated Rockaway Arts Fest with a free concert on the beach. It will also mark the re-opening of historic Fort Tilden Park (once home to a disproportionate number of shore-going hipsters and that creepy abandoned UFO-looking Army thing), still flustered but for the most part recovered from Hurricane Sandy. Works from local and nationally acclaimed artists are on display through August, but for now, enjoy this all-day opening ceremony with theater performances, food trucks, and kayaking demonstrations, all capped off by Smith, a proud Rockaways resident herself. If that’s not enough seafaring fun, head a few blocks inland for the after-party at Rockaway Beach Surf Club, the patio bar and restaurant replete with cornhole and kiddie pools.

Sun., June 29, 8 p.m., 2014


Erik Friedlander

Genre-bending cellist Erik Friedlander wrote most of the music for Nighthawks, his latest release with Bonebridge, during Hurricane Sandy, lit by candlelight. Bonebridge is Friedlander stretching out with three luminaries from the downtown avant-garde scene: guitarist Doug Wamble, a frequent Marsalis collaborator, bassist Trevor Dunn, of Mr. Bungle and Secret Chiefs 3, and drummer Michael Sarin, whose behind-the-beat equanimity has anchored Dave Douglas and Ben Allison. More Vince Giordano than Edward Hopper, Nighthawks blends folk and jazz with a cerebral jam aesthetic; Bela Fleck meets Bela Bartok, replete with the latter’s pizzicato snap. You’ve heard of slap bass–this is slap cello.

Thu., May 22, 7:30 p.m., 2014



Swoon, the street artist whose intricate life-size portraits made her famous, is taking her work indoors with a site-specific installation at the Brooklyn Museum. A landscape that centers on a large sculptural tree, Swoon: Submerged Motherlands includes “sculpted boats and rafts, figurative prints and drawings, and cut paper foliage.” The piece is a response to climate change, inspired both by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy as well as Doggerland, a landmass that bridged Great Britain and Europe 8,000 years ago before being wiped out by a tsunami.

Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m. Starts: April 11. Continues through Aug. 24, 2014


Stories From Hurricane Sandy and the Year Since

A year ago today, Sandy whipped through New York, bringing 100 mph winds and a 100-year flood. The storm sparked fires, and left the city cloaked in darkness for days.

A year removed from the event, this city is still feeling Sandy’s effects in a million different ways. Our favorite stories from the storm, and the year since, represent only a small sample.

The Storm

Hurricane Sandy: Queens 9-Year-Old Has Seen ‘Way Worse’

In Red Hook, Fishing in a Hurricane

Sound of the Sandy City

The Best Things We Ate During Sandy

New East Village Knowledge

The West Village, Hurricane Edition

Report From the East and West Villages, Post-Apocalypse

During Hurricane Sandy, Neighbors Save Neighbors on McLaughlin Street

The Disaster District

Enduring in Red Hook

The Aftermath

Slideshow: Hurricane Sandy’s Devastating Wrath, In Photos

Sildeshow: Remarkable Photos of Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath

Hurricane Sandy Is New York’s Katrina

Occupy Sandy Steps Up in Wake of City Failures

Brooklyn’s South Sound Studio Completely Destroyed By Sandy

The Show Does Not Go On

Hurricane Sandy and the Future of the New York Art World

Hurricane Sandy Claims Another Life; Has Now Killed 41 People in New York City

Hurricane Sandy Unleashed 11 Billion Gallons of Crap in the Water, Report Shows

The Numbers Are In: More Than $400 Million Was Raised for Hurricane Sandy Relief

A Surprise Million-Dollar Donation Kept Sandy Evacuees Living in Hotels From Becoming Homeless

After Hurricane Sandy, Verizon Takes Hostages

Sandy Just Got Legal: NYAG Eric Schneiderman Subpoenas LIPA, ConEd & Others

Schneiderman’s Sandy Clampdown Continues: Nonprofits Next on NYAG’s List

The MTA Procures Storm Surge Protection via the Catastrophe Bond Market

Flood Zone, NYC




Last year, Hurricane Sandy put a major damper on the Halloween festivities, which resulted in the cancellation of the Halloween Parade. This year, however, the Soho Arthouse is bringing the excitement back to Halloween with The Funhouse, which will help fund the Halloween Parade. Artist Allison Goldenstein will present what is being described as a “colossal world of thrilling color, hair-raising adventure and nostalgic fun,” featuring
a collection of art by Howie Keck, Kevin Charles Newcomb, MarcoArt, Miho Opal, Oliver Ray, and others. Plus, see
the exhibit of past parade photos and bid in the silent auction. A percentage of all sales will go to restoring the parade as it celebrates its 40th year.

Fri., Oct. 11, 6 p.m.; Mondays-Sundays, noon. Starts: Oct. 11. Continues through Oct. 23, 2013