Everyone is talking about the polar vortex right now, and while the buzz phrase doesn’t have a Twitter profile just yet, the whole topic of extreme weather was discussed at the Capitol on Tuesday (Dec. 7) at an event that drew Vice President Joe Biden to frigid Albany.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo hosted a press conference in the capitol’s Red Room to unveil a set of initiatives called Reimagining New York for a New Reality. The $17 billion plan, funded by already approved federal Superstorm Sandy relief appropriations, will focus on redesigning key components of New York state’s infrastructure, as well as its energy, fuel, transportation and communication systems in natural disasters and other situations.
“I’ve been governor for three years,” said Cuomo. “We’ve had nine federally declared disasters.” Superstorm Sandy, which hit the East Coast in October 2012, caused tens of billions of dollars in damage. Two other devastating storms, Hurricanes Irene and Lee, hit New York in 2011 and also caused billions of dollars in damage—particularly to upstate.
“Extreme weather is the new reality—like it or not,” said Cuomo. “Extreme weather brings extreme damage. Superstorm Sandy affected 11 million people.” He added that the storm “shut down every major system” including transit, energy, fuel, and telecommunications.
Cuomo said the more than 1,000 projects will include an upgraded weather detection system, increasing the current 27 monitoring sites across the state to 125; a total redesign of the New York City subway system to include ways to seal the more than 540 openings to flood waters; a redesign of key upstate roads and 100 bridges to make them flood resistant; an examination of airports; raising all energy substations and launching micro-grid systems; and upgrades to wastewater protection systems.
“We need to rethink our relationship to the coast,” he said, and discussed ways to revert downstate areas to their original wetland states. According to Cuomo, part of this plan will include “buying out a community of over 321 homes to turn it back into natural buffer wetlands” on Staten Island. He did not comment on whether those purchases would by voluntary or not.
In upstate, he briefly mentioned the Schoharie flash-flood monitoring system and Troy’s “one-mile-long seawall built in 1916.”
Biden praised the governor’s plan and “extremely powerful voice,” and added: “We cannot rebuild to the status quo . . . that’s just wasting money. The old model of the 20th century is gone. . . . If we don’t build smart and build resiliency in the communities, we’re not going to be able to . . . live on the coast.”
The plan also calls for emergency training for private citizens, and new educational centers through the State University of New York to offer specialized training for emergency personnel.