Connecticut’s request for Sandy funding pale by comparison
Washington — After Hurricane Sandy devastated their states, the governors of New York and New Jersey tapped big-name consulting firms to create voluminous, detailed requests for help from the federal government.
New York state, which sought a total of $32 billion from Washington, submitted a 56-page report with the help of Price Waterhouse Coopers. It detailed the needs of every town, state university and agency affected by the storm. New York City had its own detailed request, as did New Jersey, which asked for $29.5 billion.
In contrast, the $3.2 billion request from Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration fit on one 8-by-11-inch sheet of paper. Most of the money sought — $2.58 billion — was requested to bury power lines and upgrade the state’s power transmission systems. No specific locations for those improvements were mentioned.
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The three governors’ requests were considered by the Obama administration when it sent Congress a $62 billion Sandy relief bill approved New Year’s Day.
New York and New Jersey are expected to get most of the money they asked for. But even though Connecticut’s request was much more modest, there doesn’t appear to be funding in the Sandy bill to meet most of Malloy’s request.
Andrew Doba, Malloy’s communications director, said the simplicity of Connecticut’s request was because it suffered less damage than New York and New Jersey and was in a relatively weaker position to ask the federal government for money.
He said the types of documents New York and New Jersey submitted to the Obama administration “had no bearing” on how the federal money is distributed.
But the Obama administration did use those documents to determine how much money federal agencies needed to respond to Sandy.
Malloy joined the governors of New York and New Jersey in pressing Congress to move quickly on Sandy funding, writing joint letters and op-ed pieces — indicating a joint stake in seeking Sandy relief.
New York state’s application to the federal government included everything from the cost of rebuilding roads and buildings to the cost of sweatshirts for storm victims. A Power Point slide presentation with photos of Sandy’s devastation, also prepared by Price Waterhouse Coopers, was also included in the application.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office declined to provide a copy of its full submission, prepared with the help of McKinsey & Co., a large consulting and lobbying firm. But a public summary of New Jersey’s request provides details about damages to schools, towns, roads and bridges, utilities and repair cost estimates. The request also included $7.4 billion in mitigation costs.
Money from the $62 billion Sandy bill is now slowly flowing to the states.
One program approved in the Sandy bill was $16 billion in Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The states can use the grants for housing and infrastructure. The distribution of the money is based on need.
In the first of three allocations of those grants, New York City received $1.77 billion, New York state got $1.71 billion, and New Jersey received $1.8 billion.
Connecticut, in contrast, received $71.89 million — less than half of 1 percent of what the others received.
Observed New Haven City Administrator Rob Smuts:”$71 million for Connecticut … is not going to go all that far.”
Bridgeport has already told Malloy’s office that it needs $59 million in relief.
At a press conference last fall, Malloy conceded that Connecticut was spared the severe damage Sandy inflicted on New York and New Jersey, but he indicated that the state may not be as lucky when the next storm threatens and the state needs to prepare.
“We dodged a bullet, but we’re going to have to harden this infrastructure,” Malloy said.
But even when HUD approves more block grant money later this year, demand in the state may outstrip resources.
“I suspect we’ll be oversubscribed,” said Dan DeSimone, who heads Malloy’s Washington office.
Because New York and New Jersey “got walloped” by the storm, it’s hard for Connecticut to compete, he said.
“I have no expectations on what we’re going to get, but we’re going to get some [block grant money], and we’ll be able to do some good things with it,” DeSimone said. “There are just fewer resources to do all the work that we have to do.”
New Jersey and New York state and New York City all beat Connecticut in planning how to use the first distribution of block grant money.
New York City said it plans to spend the money on rehabilitating homes and public housing and to provide $185 million in grants to businesses.
New York state said it would use its money for home repairs, government buyouts of property in flood-prone areas, low-interest loans and a series of flood-prevention measures.
New Jersey has gone a step further, already submitting to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development its proposal on how the state would use the money, a requirement before the funds are released.
New Jersey proposes $825 million to help homeowners rebuild and storm-proof their homes, $255 million to help displaced renters and build low-income rental units. Another $500 million would be used for small business grants and millions of dollars more to help local governments.
New York City is expected to send its proposal to HUD in the next few days. Like New Jersey, New York City posted its proposal on a website and sought public comment.
In contrast, Connecticut has said nothing.
“We’re composing our plan. It’s a process. We’re well within the time-frame,” DeSimone said.
Connecticut has less than two months to submit its detailed plan to HUD. That plan will have to be posted on a website and include a public comment period before it’s submitted to HUD.
“The data-gathering process is very cumbersome,” said DeSimone.
But one former state official involved in emergency planning said the brevity of Connecticut’s request is “surprising to me.” Unlike the governors of New Jersey and New York, Malloy doesn’t have the staff needed to collect the amount of information that would have resulted in a more detailed request, said the source, who declined to be publicly identified. He said the governor should have considered outside help.
Other local officials, who also preferred not to be named, said they also were disappointed the governor did not make more of an effort to get more money from Washington. They also said they wish Connecticut had put more effort into other mitigation efforts, rather than concentrating so much on burying power lines.
Tropical Storm Irene and the brutal snowstorm of October 2011 prompted the Malloy administration to convene the so-called “Two Storm” panel that issued a report last year on how to better protect the state from natural disasters.
After looking at communities outside the state with buried power lines, the panel recommended “selective undergrounding of utilities and strengthening assets.”
The panel’s report said the expense of upgrading and hardening the system should be “shared by ratepayers and shareholders,” of the power companies, not the federal government.
Michael West, spokesman for United Illuminating, said his company never asked the state to seek funding from Washington, although that option had been discussed in the past.
Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia spent two days in Washington at the end of February asking for some $200 million to address a variety of projects that could protect vulnerable waterfront areas from future storms.
He has a list of needs, from upgrading 150-year-old railroad underpasses to protecting a low-income public housing complex on the banks of the Rippowam River that floods repeatedly.
“We are chasing every conceivable dollar that we have a possibility of obtaining,” Pavia said.
Smuts, New Haven’s city administrator, said eroded beaches leave some houses in the city right up along the water with no seawall to protect them. The city’s Mill River power station is also a concern, with firefighters just barely saving it from flooding during Sandy.
Norwalk’s redevelopment agency director, Tim Sheehan, said, “It’s not clear at all” how much money the state — or the city of Norwalk — will be getting from the federal government.
Sheehan said he’s looking for help from philanthropic groups, including the New York-based Robin Hood Foundation. But he said charitable groups’ contribution will be relatively small.
“Public infrastructure is public infrastructure, and it requires the investment of the municipality and the state and the federal government to fix,” Sheehan said.
With the centerpiece of its Sandy proposal — $2.58 billion plan to bury power lines — not likely to be funded by the federal government, some coastal towns, including Greenwich and Bridgeport, are looking at the possibility of doing it on their own.
The brunt of those costs will likely be borne by those local governments and rate payers.
Besides putting power lines underground, Bridgeport also wants to build tidal gates and hurricane barriers and has other projects planned to protect the city from future storms.
They will take decades and cost billions, said David Kooris, Bridgeport’s economic development director. The hope, Kooris said, is that the Sandy relief money would start the process.
“If the Sandy relief dollars don’t provide at least a starting point for these types of projects around the region, then it will all have been for naught,” he said.
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