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Massapequa Continues To Rebuild

There are many different opinions about how to approach rebuilding and revitalizing the Massapequas following last year’s Superstorm Sandy devastation — and many of those opinions were front and center at a public meeting hosted by New York Rising at McKenna Elementary school last week.

The NY Rising Community Reconstruction program presented Massapequa residents with strategies and projects aimed at addressing the community’s needs, while also examining opportunities to improve the area’s infrastructure to protect against future storms.

Jason Hellendrung, NY Rising representative, kicked off the forum by laying out the program’s vision for rebuilding Massapequa, one of the Long Island communities hit hardest by the October 2012 storm. He said the purpose of the forum was to allow those with a vested interest in recovery to have their say, rather than just dole out legislation from Governor Andrew Cuomo in Albany.

“This is very much a community-based program,” said Hellendrung. “You know the community best. You know what is in the best interest of the community. When we ask to hear from you, we want you to guide how relief funding should be spent so that the area is more resilient and better protected from future storms.”

Hellendrung said as part of the process of keeping the community involved, a Massapequa Planning Committee comprised of local residents was established to work with municipal, non-profeit and consultant supporters to identify a vision, goals, objectives and a plan for the hamlet of Massapequa, East Massapequa and the Village of Massapequa Park. This committee actively advises on all aspects of the project and will help shape the overall direction of NY Rising’s final plan and the actions that will flow from it.

“Resiliency must be adopted as an underpinning goal,” said Hellendrung. “Resilient planning, design and building on Long Island should create a higher degree of protection for existing communities while allowing for growth that is in a better balance with the natural features that make Long Island so attractive.”

After announcing topics of discussion including emergency preparedness, economic revitalization, social services, housing and infrastructure, attendees broke into groups to attack each topic in depth and to record their concerns for submission to NY Rising.

Massapequa residents and committee members Richard Scher and Maureen Fitzgerald led one group discussion, unfolding a large map of the Massapequas that showed varying degrees of storm damage indicated with a color coded system. Red represented the worst damage — most of which ran close to the south shore.

“There are people who live there that never went home,” said Massapequa resident Josephine Berardi, who attended the forum with her husband Robert. “They just closed the door and walked away from their homes. It’s sad.”

The Berardis were joined in their discussion group by husband and wife Jon and Dawn Lesser. One of their chief concerns was the lack of reliable, and reachable, emergency health care facilities in the Massapequas. They suggested commissioning emergency care centers to set up in community centers and schools to act as triage post during extreme emergencies.

“There is a major concern about getting to a hospital in emergency situations,” said Dawn Lesser. “There needs to be better access to medical care.”

The group also discussed burying power lines to protect against outages, mandating that gas stations use back-up generators to guard against long gas lines, beautifying a stretch of Merrick Road to the east that has degenerated over time.

Committee member Richard Scher said the suggestions and opinions of the discussion groups could influence how recovery funds are used.

“This is an opportunity to make Massapequa better,” said Scher. “We have the money available to us, so lets use it to make Massapequa stronger.”

But one Massapequa resident held a skeptical view about the forum. Henry Teja, a disaster security specialist who worked tirelessly to help his neighbors in the aftermath of the storm, said spending money can be reckless if it is not spent in essential areas.

“I want to see storm protection and disaster recovery,” he said. “I don’t want to see money spent on housing projects and parkland. There are more pressing concerns. Lets control spending and put that money where it counts.”

But most in attendance agreed that they wanted to hear from one group absent from the forum — the Town of Oyster Bay.

“They are the ones who have the ultimate decision on whether or not to spend the money on these projects,” said Jon Lesser. “Without hearing from them, we’re decorating the cake before it’s baked.”