As many South Shore residents continue to pick up the pieces 19 months after Superstorm Sandy, county officials announced a bipartisan agreement to approve $14.4 million in borrowing to re-establish its Clean and Seed program.
The county declared a state of emergency two weeks after Sandy for homes on Barnes Avenue, in Baldwin, and North Boulevard, in East Rockaway, when there was a breach in a sewer main, causing sewage to bubble up into the surrounding streets and houses. The county first established the Clean and Seed program, to remove toxins from lawns, last year with $2 million in capital funding, but after assisting 200 homeowners, it ran out of money. According to Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, there are currently 1,494 homes still on the program’s list.
The county launched a separate interior home cleaning program for sewage-stricken homes in 2012.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle came out in favor of the borrowing plan after it was passed in committee sessions earlier this month. The funding was unanimously approved on Monday by the full Legislature.
Shila Shah-Gavnoudias, commissioner of the county Department of Public Works, explained that after a homeowner requests to be part of the program, the property is assessed and, if it is approved, an outside firm strips the lawn and the top three inches of soil, puts down fresh soil and reseeds the lawn. A third party then inspects the work to make sure it has been done properly.
Barnes Avenue resident Keith Eckles had four feet of water in his home during Sandy and sewage strewn across his property. His lawn was one of the 200 that was dug up and reseeded last year during the program’s first round. “As a resident,” he said, “we didn’t know what was contaminated and what wasn’t contaminated on the outside.” He added that he was happy the program would be restored.
Legislator Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) said that the program was important, and that she was glad its restoration was approved by legislators of both parties. “The grass seeds could care less about politics,” she said. “They’re much more concerned with sunshine and rain.”
At a press conference last week in front of East Rockaway Village Trustee Theresa Gaffney’s property on Franklin Street, which currently lies empty as she seeks funding to rebuild her home, the Legislature’s majority leader, Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), said she had mixed emotions.
“After a year and a half, there are still people like Theresa and her family who have not been able to get back into their homes,” Gonsalves said. “But the Clean and Seed program is a step in the right direction.”
In the aftermath of catastrophes like Sandy, Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams said, people need government most. “At the end of the day it’s about rebuilding the South Shore to its previous splendor,” he said of the bipartisan agreement.
Two weeks after Sandy, Barnes Avenue residents Jeffrey and Erica Press told the Herald that the sewage discharged in the rupture came from a force main and vault that breached the pavement during the storm. Jeffrey added that the underground structures — which usually combine and pump sewage from several smaller lines to the Bay Park Sewage Treatment plant in East Rockaway — ruptured on Oct. 29, 2012, and gushed raw sewage until that Nov. 1 or 2.
Mangano said he expects to recoup the money for the program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “[Sandy] left an environmental problem and a health risk, and therefore [the program] should be entitled … to be funded,” he said. “We continue to work with FEMA towards that goal.”
Residents interested in the program can call (516) 535-5730 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.