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City Taking $150M Away From Flood Protection to Fund 'Failed' Build It Back

By Katie Honan | September 28, 2016 3:03pm | Updated on September 29, 2016 7:55am
 The city is moving millions in federal dollars meant for a flood mitigation program in Red Hook into their Build It Back program.
The city is moving millions in federal dollars meant for a flood mitigation program in Red Hook into their Build It Back program.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Keith

ROCKAWAY BEACH — The city intends to move more than $150 million in federal funds originally intended for "critical" flood protection programs to help pay for the ballooning Build It Back budget, documents show.

The city's recovery agency submitted changes to its plan for $4.21 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, last Friday.

In it, city officials laid out a plan to move half a billion dollars into its costly and much-criticized residential rebuilding program, Build It Back, which has been bogged down by overruns from its original budget. Its total budget for single and multi-family homes is now more than $3 billion, records show.

In the new plan, Build it Back will take $350 million more from the city's federally funded capital projects fund. And $152 million originally set aside for a "Raised Shorelines" plan — which includes projects to mitigate floods in low-lying neighborhoods on the Rockaway peninsula and Red Hook — will be moved to Build It Back.

That leaves only $7 million in federal dollars for the "Raised Shorelines" program, according to the document.

City officials note in its changes that these and other programs will instead be funded by the city's Capital Commitment Plan, announced in September. They explained that they needed to tap the federal funds for Build it Back because they are barred from using public money for programs that are not public, like rebuilding private homes.

An official said the money shift will not cause any delay or "funding gap" for the projects.

But officials are sounding the alarm about the city's shifting priorities when it comes to resiliency measures. 

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez — who in the past criticized the city for shrinking the budget for the Red Hook Integrated Flood Plan from $200 million to $100 million — called the move "disturbing." There will now be zero dollars in federal funds for the project from the pot of money that had been allotted to NYC. However, there will still be $50 million in FEMA money allotted to the state that will remain earmarked for the Red Hook project. 

“Given that there were inadequate resources allocated initially, it is disturbing that funds are being diverted from Red Hook resiliency projects to a largely unproven program," she said.

"I will be carefully monitoring to ensure the city administration lives up to its promise to replace these federal dollars with city capital funds.”

The additional money for the rebuilding program, which Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged would be completed by the end of 2016, was blasted last week in a City Council hearing.

City Councilman Mark Treyger, the chair of their resiliency committee, asked why so much more money was required even though more than half of the original registrants dropped out of Build it Back.

Build It Back's director Amy Peterson — who came to the hearing without basic statistics such as how many people are still left in the program, or how much has been spent so far — blamed rising construction costs, design changes and other issues for the change.

In addition to the flood protection measures, programs such as a streetscape improvement program in Rockaway, which cost $15 million, and $228 million to rebuild public facilities have been cut from the federal budget. 

The city will hold three public meetings for these changes, in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

► Oct. 5, 7 p.m.
Beach Channel Educational Campus Auditorium
100-00 Beach Channel Dr., Rockaway Park

► Oct. 13, 7 p.m 
​SIUH North Campus, Regina McGinn Education and Conference Center 
475 Seaview Ave., Staten Island 

► Oct. 17, 7 p.m.
Coney Island Hospital Auditorium
2601 Ocean Parkway, Coney Island