Sen. Charles Schumer expressed cautious optimism that the Senate this week will pass a $60 billion emergency relief bill to assist families, businesses and municipalities from New Jersey to Staten Island to Montauk that are working to recover from Hurricane Sandy.
At a press conference on a Point Lookout beach Sunday afternoon, Schumer said the vote on the bill is locked for 5:30 p.m. Monday, but that five Republicans are still needed to vote in favor of the package in order for it to pass.
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“We’re on the phone calling them,” Schumer said of the Republicans.
Moreover, a unanimous consent among all senators is needed to agree to bring the vote to the floor, and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah wants “to make sure that we pay for all of this with cuts in other things,” Schumer said.
The package will provide funds to homeowners to raise their homes and to small businesses to reopen their stores, as well as to municipalities, including the City of Long Beach, Nassau County and Town of Hempstead, for restoration of beaches and inlets. About $5 billion will be available in New York and New Jersey for Army Corps of Engineer projects, including dune restoration.
“It’s going to help us rebuild our whole South Shore beachfront from Staten Island to Montauk, in a way that we couldn’t before,” Schumer said of the aid package. “ … What we’re going to do is not just restore the damage that occurred from Sandy, but make it better.”
Schumer cited 22 projects that include dredging, restoring sand to beaches and providing jetties and seawalls.
About $150 million of the package would be allocated to Long Beach island, from East Rockaway Inlet to Jones Inlet, providing for projects on about seven of the nine miles of public shoreline along the barrier island. Schumer said that plans are already in place to rebuild dunes in Long Beach that were designed in years past.
“What we’re going to do, if the community wants, is build a dune,” Schumer said of plans in Long Beach.
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg was among the officials at Sunday’s press conference that also included Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray and Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman. Weisenberg said that Long Beach failed to move forward with a $98 million Army Corp of Engineer project for beach restoration in 2006 because the City Council at the time was “intimidated” by people from out of town who attended council meetings, “saying ‘we’re going to have black sand on our beach, we’re going to have riptides, people are going to drown and we don’t want to have it done.’”
But others have said that the council turned down the project in part because it failed to address shoring up the bay side of the barrier island.
Morris Kramer, an Atlantic Beach resident and self-described “independent environmentalist,” expressed skepticism that a post-Sandy beach restoration project would move forward in Long Beach.
“Unless the people in Long Beach, professionals and the business people, the residents, gather together to swamp these people, it’s not going to happen,” Kramer said of people who opposed the project in 2006.
City Council member Len Torres, in answer to a question about the potential that the council may vote against a new beach restoration project, said: “We have a complete majority on having the work done by the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Of the other projects covered under the aid package, $750 million will be provided to rebuild the dunes and replenish the beaches from Fire Island to Montauk, and $2 million to address shoreline erosion at Asharoken, a village in the Town of Huntington.
If the Senate passes the $60 billion aid package Monday, “the money can flow within a couple of months” for many of the projects, Schumer said. He noted that while plans for dredging have already been authorized, some of these projects may be held up due to lack of equipment.
“We will work with the community to figure out a priority, which ones should go first, which are the most important, obviously Jones and Fire Island,” Schumer said.
Earlier this month, Congress approved part of the aid package, a $50.7 billion relief bill, which passed by a vote of 241-180 — with 192 Democrats and 49 Republicans in support; 179 Republicans and one Democrat opposed. Two weeks prior to that vote, Congress passed a much smaller $9.7 billion package, which wrapped up a highly charged debate around the House's failure to vote on the $60.4 billion Sandy aid bill on Jan. 1.