2006-03-17 / Columnists

Meeks' Message From Capitol Hill

By Congressman Gregory Meeks


GREGORY MeeKS GREGORY MeeKS A host of developments that are worth discussing have erupted over the past month.

There's the Dubai port debacle.There's the worsening of the situation in Iraq.

There's the growing confrontation of the international community with Iran over its nuclear program.

There's the spread of bird flu to northern Nigeria and parts ofWestern Europe.

There's the depressing report on global warming and the melting of Arctic and Antarctic glaciers.

There's President Bush's drop in the polls, even among Republicans and conservatives.

We could certainly devote an entire column - indeed, several columns - to each topic.But, even with all of the big national and international developments swirling around us, two of my House colleagues and I have been trying to draw attention to the fact that an act of God or the actions of people of ill will could very easily turn the coastal areas of New York City into "the next big thing."

A couple of weeks ago, Representative Anthony Weiner, Representative Jerrold Nadler, and I held a press conference to alert the press and the public to gross inadequacies in evacuation and rebuilding plans for the shore areas of Brooklyn and Queens that experts believe are vulnerable to a hurricane.

No, we are not running around yelling the sky is falling.

And, no, we are not trying to scare folks for the sake of political expediency.

On 9/11, New Yorkers learned that in a matter of minutes, hundreds of billions of dollars in real estate, technology, and infrastructure; tens of thousands of jobs; hundreds of businesses; and thousands of priceless lives, could be lost.

And who among us will ever forget the scenes of the desperate New Orleans or devastated Mississippi Gulf Coast residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?Both 9/11 (an action of men) and Katrina (an act of God) remind us of our vulnerability.

I often think about how the residents of the Rockaways are undertaking revitalization and build up of the Peninsula.

We know from the incredible damage wrought by Katrina that all of our hard work as a community, as families, and as individuals could be wiped out overnight.The same for a terrorist incident, say, at JFK or in Jamaica Bay.

Many of us think that hurricanes only hit in the South or the tropics. However, the Weather Channel has called New York City one of the five most hurricane prone cities in the United States.

The Rockaways in Queens, Brighton Beach and Coney Island in Brooklyn, City Island, and the south shore of Staten Island would be at risk of severe flooding and wind damage.

If you don't think that anything like this could happen here just look at what All-State, the largest provider of homeowners' insurance in New York State, is doing.

Earlier this month, All-State began mailing notices to policyholders in parts of New York City, Long Island, and Westchester, telling homeowners it would not write new policies and would decline to renew some old policies that are about to expire.

Why?

Because of the increasing danger of a devastating hurricane.

This should tell of all us that we have to be prepared.

We have to have emergency evacuation plans.

We have to educate the public so that people know what to do and where to go.

I've been in discussions with Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, on ways of strengthening New York City's evacuation plan.

We are eager to work in the City in educating Rockaways residents about the soon-to-be issued new City plan.

A natural disaster like a Category 3 hurricane can easily overwhelm municipal and even state government capabilities.

Federal planning, preparedness, precaution, and resources are indispensable.

Precautionary steps by the federal government are particularly important.

Congress recognized this almost 15 years ago when it directed the Army Corps of Engineers to the Atlantic Coast of New York Monitoring Program to collect data on beach erosion and sea conditions, to identify areas most susceptible to erosion, storm surges and hurricane force winds, and to construct coastal infrastructure to protect threatened neighborhoods from storm surges.

In the Rockaways this program undertook to replenish a 100-foot berm along the 6.2 miles between Beach 149 Street and Beach 19 Street.

I know it sounds unbelievable but the administration has cut most of the Army Corps of Engineers programs to fortify our shorelines.The Atlantic Coast of New York Monitoring Program has been zeroed out, resulting in a $7 million shortfall that forced the Army Corps of Engineers to shut down the program.The President's new budget contains no funding - zero - for the Rockaways.But, you can be assured that Rep. Weiner, Rep. Nadler, and I, along with the New York Congressional Delegation, will put up a fierce battle to make sure these absolutely necessary programs and measures are properly funded.

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