Suffolk County lawmakers got an earful on the Superstorm Sandy response at a public hearing where averting another gas crisis, broadening water quality testing and revamping communication were among the suggestions.
More than a dozen community leaders, experts and residents weighed in at the two-hour sound off session Thursday at the Suffolk County Legislature during a joint meeting of the Public Safety and Economic Development and Energy committees.
“Facebook: learn how to use it,” said Allison Sarmiento of Shirley, noting how blacked-out residents used the social media network on their smart phones to form a community hub and donation center at a nearby health center. “Plan on power going down.”
The critiques will be shared with county agencies, departments and companies involve in the post-Sandy recovery. Their responses will be compiled into a study that will be released in the coming months.
“We feel your pain,” Legis. Wayne Horsely (D-Babylon), the chamber’s deputy presiding officer, told a Commack woman who complained of being without power for three weeks after the Oct. 29 storm.
Michael Watt, executive director of the Long Island Gas Retailers Association, spoke out against a post-Sandy proposal to require gas stations to have backup generators or manually operated pumps in case of another blackout.
“Not all service stations lend themselves to having backup generators,” Watt told the panel, adding that some station owners can’t afford such an upgrade.
Nassau County has proposed similar legislation in the hopes that grant funding will help prevent future blackout-induced gas shortages. Nassau’s Industrial Development Agency is also offering tax breaks for gas stations that upgrade.
While there was a shortage of gasoline for sale, there was no shortage of fuel spilling into Long Island waterways along with other flotsam sent adrift by Sandy’s storm surge.
Kevin McDonald, policy advisor for the Nature Conservancy—a nonprofit environmental group that has been seeding shellfish in the bays—suggested that county workers test surface waters for chemicals they don’t usually look for.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has reported responding to more than 3,000 fuel spills after Sandy.
McDonald added that the overwashes and breaches of LI’s barrier islands may help offset the pollution, although there is debate over how the added seawater affects the salinity of the bays, which in turn impacts the ecosystem.
Residents and officials also took turns bashing the Long Island Power Authority for its storm response. The state’s Moreland Commission investigating utilities’ recovery efforts is slated to hold a hearing Tuesday on LI.