Parks Need More Money to Repair Sandy Damage

This post has been updated with more information.

New York City parks are still in dire need of repair due to damage from Superstorm Sandy, proceedings at Thursday’s city council Committee on Parks and Recreation preliminary budget hearing revealed.

Sandy damage to parks was worth $800 million, inundating more than 5,700 acres of land in the Parks system and 430 Parks sites, Department of Parks and Recreation First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said in his testimony before the committee chaired by Council Member Mark Levine.

Over 48,000 trees in park territory were damaged by salt water from the storm. Hundreds have been removed already, but more need to be taken out this spring and summer, with replacements scheduled to be planted in the fall.

Brooklyn Council Member Chaim Deutsch told the deputy commissioner he was concerned damaged tree limbs may fall and injure pedestrians, but Kavanagh assured him that trees were being inspected regularly by forestry staff.

Although the city has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on capital restoration projects, including $270 million to help restore the city’s damaged beaches, none of that has been reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, often referred to as FEMA. FEMA has only reimbursed the money spent for the storm’s emergency response, Kavanagh said at the hearing.

MIchael Meenan, a spokesman for FEMA’s New York Sandy Recovery Field Office told NY City Lens that FEMA has given more than $65 million in reimbursements so far to the Parks Department for Sandy-related debris removal, protective measures, and for the repair and rebuilding of damaged facilities and infrastructure. These items make up seven categories of rebuilding work, both for emergencies and for permanent repairs, he explained.

At the hearing, meanwhile, committee member Mark Treyger asked the deputy parks commissioner why there has been a delay in getting further reimbursements. Kavanagh responded that the federal government has a lengthy process of review and that most projects don’t get reimbursed until after they are completed. The timeline for further reimbursement, said FEMA spokesman Meenan in a telephone interview, depends on which category the work falls under.

“It’s simply the level of detail the federal government requires in order to document the level of damage, the repairs, the restoration work that we believe needs to occur. It’s a very involved process, that’s all I can tell you,” Kavanagh said.

In response to the disputed numbers, the Parks Department said Kavanagh had actually misspoken at the hearing. “The City has received about $10 million in FEMA reimbursements for capital restorations caused by Hurricane Sandy,” Parks Department spokesperson Philip Abramson said in an email sent on Saturday.

Kavanagh estimated that another $155 million is needed to completely restore parks to the condition that they were in before the storm, but he added that it’s unclear how much of the total money spent on restoration projects will ultimately be covered by FEMA.

“It’s a little bit of an unknown as to how much the city will eventually receive for all of that work,” he said.

To ensure future storm protection of the 148 miles of coastline within the Parks Department’s jurisdiction (27 percent of the city’s shoreline), a waterfront mapping and inspection plan is also in the works, he said.

For the fiscal year 2015, the Parks Department has a preliminary budget of $385 million. Fiscal year 2014, with a total budget of $380.4 million, had the largest expense budget in the department’s history.