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Cuomo conference focuses on storm prep


Gov. Andrew Cuomo gathered local leaders from around the state Wednesday to talk about reaction to past storms, and to plan for the next ones.

Cuomo invited government leaders from Long Island, the North Country, central New York and other locales who experienced damage from Hurricanes Irene, Lee and Sandy.

They gathered to praise their past efforts to react to the storms, and to report on steps they are taking to prepare for future disastrous weather events.

Representatives from Long Island spoke of creating off shore sand barriers, while a Madison County leader told how they decided to move the county highway garage to higher ground.

Others say they are rebuilding flood damaged areas with  green space and walking and bike paths.

Dennis Wilson is from the village of Fort Plain, in Montgomery County, which was devastated by flash flooding just last summer. He says the village has to rethink development and allow wider areas near creeks and rivers to absorb water overflow.

“We have to be creative about how we can provide sufficient flood plan,” Wilson said. “So there’s a place for the water to go.”

Governor Cuomo says the more frequent storms are leading to a change of attitude about wetlands and their value.

“We saw wetlands as a waste of space,” Cuomo said. “Let’s develop it because it’s just a wetland and is serving no purpose.”

As a result, he says many wetlands have been filled in by development. He says when Superstorm Sandy flooded parts of lower Manhattan, the high water lines almost exactly coincided with the borders of the original island wetlands in the 1700’s that have been filled in by buildings over the past 300 years. He says they learned the hard way that you can’t contain Mother Nature.

“We were encroaching on her territory,” said Cuomo, who says the old thinking was that deep landfills could counter act the effects of any storm.

“We can build big fill sites,” said Cuomo, of the thinking in the past. “No you can’t. You think you can, but you can’t.”

Cuomo praised leaders in Staten Island, who he says have permanently relocated many homes in order to create a wetland border.

While there was much talk of Mother Nature and her effect on storms, there was  little discussion of  the climate change that many scientists believe is causing the more frequent and destructive storms.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the  changes, saying the “common sense” preparations that  are now routine would have seemed alarmist 20 years ago.

“We don’t get a memo that tells us when the next storm is going to hit,” de Blasio said.

de Blasio is seeking legislation to offer temporary property tax abatements to storm victims who have rebuilt and seen their tax bills go up. He says he’s optimistic that it will pass in the Senate and Assembly this session.

After the event, Cuomo commented on reports that the federal government may try to take back one billion of the 3.5 billion dollars remaining in a Sandy relief package. Cuomo says he and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie worked hard to win that money.

“Frankly a lot of the members of the Congress didn’t  support that funding,” Cuomo said. “It’s kind of ironic that now they’re trying to come and poach it.”

Cuomo says it would be “disingenuous” to use the money for something else.

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.