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Maritime Museum Finding Lawyers to Help Red Hook Navigate Legal Waters

By Alan Neuhauser | November 22, 2012 3:24pm

RED HOOK — The director of Brooklyn's floating maritime museum is helping arrange free, long-term legal support for residents, business owners and landlords affected by Hurricane Sandy.

"The legal clinics so far have been pop-ups, like 'We're you're lawyer today,'" said Carolina Salguero, the founding director of PortSide New York, which is based on the tanker Mary H. Whalen off Pier 9B in the Red Hook Container Terminal. "What we're looking for in Red Hook is transitioning to the next stage where things become more orderly and scheduled."

The clinic is expected to open Thursday at 351 Van Brunt St., a shared art gallery and Realty Collective office that has become an aid center for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Red Hook sustained some of the most extensive flooding and damage from the storm — water began to cover Van Brunt Street, the neighborhood's main commercial street, as early as Sunday night, Oct. 28, more than 24 hours before Sandy reached its peak.

"The nature of this storm is there's multiple layers to the damage," described Monica Byrne, co-owner of Homemade restaurant on Van Brunt Street and one of the founders of Restore Red Hook, a fundraising group for neighborhood restaurants and retail shops. "You take up the rug, then you see there's mold and you need to get mold abatement."

Moreover, Salguero explained, tenants, and their landlords have often disagreed over who is responsible for which repairs, and many are uncertain how much — if any — money they should expect to receive from insurance companies or FEMA.

Dozens of lawyers from private firms and nonprofits like Legal Aid flowed into Red Hook after the storm, helping residents and business owners through the early stages of recovery. But as the recovery effort stretches into its fourth week, Salguero said the neighborhood needs lawyers who are able to guide residents and business owners through legal processes that can last for months.

Through contacts established by fellow volunteers and colleagues, Salguero reached out to Stroock, a firm based in lower Manhattan that provided free legal support for victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 attacks.

The firm did not return calls for comment Wednesday afternoon, and Salguero emphasized that many details about Stroock's assistance need to be worked out.

"They plan to be in Red Hook for four to six months," Salguero said. "Their idea is to be on the ground long enough to make it easy for overwhelmed people to reach a lawyer and have a real relationship with their lawyer."