June 12, 2013
2012-2013 State of the Village Report
This year I report to you not on the state of one Village of Lawrence, but rather on the state of two.
The first Village of Lawrence endured, withstood and overcame Super Storm Sandy and its aftermath. The second Village of Lawrence, notwithstanding the storm, still needed to continue to provide residents with the usual high level of services, and to do so in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner.
I am happy to report that the state of both Villages of Lawrence is excellent.
When Hurricane Sandy struck our community, our first priority was the safety and security of our residents and their property. Toward that goal, we immediately provided emergency debris and tree removal, thereby opening up streets for access by first responders in record time. We maintained continuous communication with Village residents via multiple channels including meetings at Village Hall, daily robo-calls and printed daily updates. To ensure public safety we led the effort to bring in the National Guard and State Police, retained private security and, through NYS EMO, procured portable light towers. We also provided emergency generators for key institutions of public assembly. The Village was instrumental in bringing to the public’s attention the plight of our greater community including contributing to lead stories on NBC National News and WSJ, as well as organizing 32 local communities to demand a greater and better response from LIPA. On a personal level, I was able to reach out to Governor Cuomo, as well as our State Senator Dean Skelos and Speaker Sheldon Silver for their intervention and support, and accompanied LIPA crews throughout the Village, not only to oversee repairs but to be in a better position to pressure LIPA to restore substations and reroute substation power. We also facilitated and expedited LIPA required electrical inspections so power could be more rapidly restored to affected homes in the flood zone. We also hosted a FEMA community meeting and arranged for free legal aid to residents through New York Legal Assistance Group and the office of State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg.
The devastation to property wrought by Sandy along the Atlantic seaboard was of biblical proportion. Most residents were drastically affected and the Village itself suffered massive damage to its properties and infrastructure. The total loss to the Village exceeded $3.5 million.
Perhaps most notably, the dike/levee protecting the Isle of Wight from Reynolds Channel inflows was entirely breached along a quarter mile section leading to disastrous flooding during the storm and daily flooding afterward at high tide.
The Lawrence Yacht & Country Club (LY&CC) sustained catastrophic damage in every one of its facilities. Marina docks and walkways were totally destroyed; the golf course was submerged with salt water and fencing and netting were washed away; and the first floor of the main clubhouse filled up with five feet of water destroying all of the furniture, equipment, fixtures and building infrastructure at the first floor and basement levels. This included the catering facility and kitchens, the locker room, administrative offices and all of the extensive boiler, air conditioning, alarm and sprinkler systems.
Other Village buildings sustaining heavy damage included the Tennis building, Marina clubhouse and the storage garage. The golf cart building, which housed our fleet of 80 golf carts, was entirely wiped out by the flood waters as well.
In short, Superstorm Sandy was an unprecedented disaster for the Village at every level. Rebuilding and refurbishing of each particular facility constituted a major project on its own; taken in aggregate we faced a monumentally challenging undertaking. From the outset, and each step of the way, consideration had to be given to ensuring the safety of our residents and employees, providing for improved functionality, and planning for mitigation of possible future storms, all while remaining mindful of time constraints and the economic impact of the reconstruction to resident taxpayers.
In order to appreciate the magnitude of the potentially severe financial consequences facing the Village from Sandy, it is important to provide a brief overview of the Village’s insurance coverage and FEMA reimbursements. The Village carries extensive insurance coverage on much of its infrastructure. However, there are limitations on what type of property is eligible for coverage as well as strict financial limits on the dollar amounts of reimbursements. Generally, flood insurance can only be taken out on buildings and their contents. Even then, coverage amounts are statutorily limited to a maximum reimbursement of $500,000 for damage to each building covered and $500,000 for the contents of each building. Outdoor infrastructure such as the dike cannot be covered by insurance at all. In theory, FEMA should cover 75% to 90% of costs to the Village not reimbursed by insurance. Thus leaving a balance of 10% to 25% of costs to be borne by the Village which, in the context of millions of dollars, can amount to very substantial sums. It should be noted that even at its best, guidance received from FEMA is equivocal and unclear. As a result, in the opaque world of FEMA reimbursement calculations, one can never be sure just how much will be recovered. Accordingly, we had to proceed in a fiscally responsible manner to protect the position of the Village.
We aggressively went to work on multiple fronts. As an example, addressing the immediate crisis posed by the breached dike at the Isle of Wight, we initially consulted with engineers from FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers as well as independent engineering companies. Cost estimates for restoration ranged up to multiple millions of dollars with time horizons for completion of the work ranging from six months to two years. None of the costs would be covered by insurance and, as alluded to above, FEMA representatives could not provide clear guidance on how much, if any, reimbursement would be forthcoming from the federal government. This uncertainty presented an untenable situation to the Village.
After careful consideration, we decided to repair the dike ourselves utilizing both current and retired Village employees and using tons of stone and sand fill already owned by the Village. Astoundingly, the resulting repair was accomplished in record time and cost the Village approximately $140,000 of which 75% has been reimbursed by FEMA to date.
Likewise, with respect to the restoration of the Country Club facilities we had to quickly but carefully consider the best way forward to ensure an improved and financially responsible outcome. Again, it was necessary to decide whether to employ the services of an outside general contractor or utilize in-house personnel for this purpose. Once again, due to the significant additional mark-ups associated with a general contractor, coupled with reduced opportunities to control costs, timing and even quality, we decided to do the job in-house. The effort required hundreds of hours of planning, inspecting and auditing every aspect of the projects, from initial bids through final completion, in order to ensure that the Village was well served.
I am proud to report that due to these extraordinary efforts, the Village achieved the timely and improved restoration of the LY&CC with notable results as follows:
1) The purchase of a brand new, state of the art fleet of 80 golf carts at a cost of $384,000, all of which was reimbursed by insurance.
2) The complete tear out and rebuilding of the main clubhouse including: brand new carpeting, flooring, drywall, painting and wall treatments; new HVAC systems; upgraded electrical systems; new kitchen appliances; a new elevator; new lobby furniture and other improvements to the general infrastructure. The cost of the facility restoration was approximately $1.3 million of which approximately $1 million was reimbursed by our flood insurance carriers, which, as noted above, is the maximum amount reimbursable under any commercial flood insurance policy for building facilities restoration. We expect to recover 75-90% of the balance from FEMA. This highlights the critical importance of cost controls as we estimate cost savings of over $1 million were achieved on the clubhouse restoration alone by contracting the work ourselves instead of using an outside contractor.
3) The replacement of the old golf cart building with a new state of the art building relocated to higher ground in compliance with FEMA requirements that will help mitigate the effects of possible future storm events.
4) The complete restoration of the Tennis and Marina Club buildings including major upgrades to the restroom facilities.
5) The complete rebuilding of the Marina dock facilities. This was an extensive project entailing replacement of the walkways and docks. Here too, we employed our in-house personnel to rebuild the docks using all new extremely high quality materials, immensely upgrading the facilities and providing for significantly enhanced safety and quality of service. Additionally, the electrical systems were significantly upgraded, including installation of new state of the art pedestals to service the boat slips.
These are but a sampling of the myriad of major and smaller achievements realized through the course of the Sandy restoration efforts.
And while the “first” Village of Lawrence was grappling with the impact of Sandy, the “second” Village of Lawrence successfully conducted business as usual and even beyond.
Unfortunately, even in the normal course of events, flooding remains an acute problem in various parts of the Village, particularly at the intersection of Meadow Lane and Marbridge Road as well as sections of Sutton Park and Lawrence Bay Park. This is largely due to the high water table in these low lying areas. Over the past ten years the problem has been exacerbated as a result of over-building in the Village which has diminished water absorption capacities. In response, the Village has undertaken the following steps:
1) During the past year, we purchased and installed two tidal check valves/gates on Rock Hall Road which have greatly alleviated flooding issues in Sutton Park and Lawrence Bay Park.
2) We have consulted with engineering experts to explore possible solutions to the flooding problem on Meadow Lane and Marbridge Road that will be both technologically sound and financially feasible. In that regard we are working with Nassau County, New York State and Federal governmental agencies to identify and secure funding for any proposed solution. Additionally, just as during the course of Sandy we focused media attention on the Village’s plight, we will continue to focus media attention on the intolerable flooding conditions that exist in the Village in order to garner additional governmental support to alleviate the situation. Estimates for a full scale solution exceed $1 million and will require the assistance of the Army Corps of Engineers.
3) During my tenure over the past three years, I have urged the Village Board of Zoning Appeals, which acts independently of the Village administration, to exercise greater care and discretion in granting building variances and to properly assess the effects of any variances on drainage capacities as well as their overall environmental impact. In that regard we have asked the Board of Zoning Appeals to adopt a standard whereby no variances will be considered unless the applicant can demonstrate ground water absorption capacity on the affected property of a minimum of three inches of water per hour. By proper engineering, there is no reason why these results cannot be achieved.
Over the past year capital road improvement/construction programs continued apace on Dillon, Stuyvesant, Sterling, Hards, Chauncey, Ocean, Washington, Hollywood, Herrick, Briarwood and Holly, while trees were maintained and new ones planted. Six crosswalk yield signs were placed along Central Avenue to provide pedestrian safety and a new solar powered speed radar trailer was purchased to curtail speeding within the Village.
Security concerns were addressed through the installation of several surveillance cameras, the organization and hosting of the area’s “Secure Community Network Security Conference” featuring national, state and local security experts and continued support of our NCPD and auxiliary police. Quality of life matters included mosquito infestation remediation, legislation regarding proper maintenance of property and regulation of weekend construction to reduce noise and disturbance, and the improvement of the Village’s water quality by prevailing upon L.I. American Water to replace its century-old water mains throughout the Village. Finally, we continue to effectively interact with the Nassau County Civil Service Commission to make certain Village positions are adequately and properly staffed, and we successfully negotiated a new contract with the Lawrence Cedarhurst Fire Department to ensure continued superior fire protection and emergency service, and to facilitate the expansion and modernization of the LCFD Firehouse.
A lot has been accomplished over the past year and thanks must be extended to the talented, devoted and professional employees of the Village of Lawrence. We are also fortunate to have skilled and committed Trustees and Judges, as well as volunteer Zoning, Planning and Building Design Board Members, Park Commissioners and our Office of Emergency Management Chairman. Our residents have been patient and supportive and have consistently been cooperative and forthcoming with valid suggestions.
But despite these accomplishments more remains to be done: our infrastructure must continue to be updated as must our Zoning laws; a more user-friendly meter and parking system must be implemented as must a viable evacuation plan; the traffic flow on Rockaway Turnpike as it impacts our residents cannot be tolerated; more and better street lighting must be installed and consideration given to the placing of more security cameras; more trees must be planted and flooding problems confronted; sanitation concerns must be resolved and greater resident and business district participation in Village matters encouraged. Please call me at (516) 238-3109 with any suggestions or comments.
My friends, ours is a great Village with great people living and working in it, and with a great history and a great future.
There is but one Village of Lawrence and it is my privilege to serve and lead it. Thank you.