A couple faces fraud charges for claiming their New Suffolk cottage to be their primary residence to receive superstorm Sandy relief, federal officials said. READ
A couple faces fraud charges for claiming their New Suffolk cottage to be their primary residence to receive superstorm Sandy relief, federal officials said. READ
She had renovated the old home gradually over several years since moving there in 1999, fixing up a bathroom, taking out a wall and redesigning her kitchen.
Bob Patchell once drove his boat, a 39-foot Chris Craft, all over the East Coast. He took it on trips to Newport and Martha’s Vineyard, up the Hudson River and all the way down to Fort Lauderdale via the Intracoastal Waterway.
The Southold Town Highway Department is working on Nassau Point in Cutchogue this week to mitigate erosion by placing boulders along the bluffs.
It’s been nearly two years since Superstorm Sandy set back restoration work at Marion Lake, but native plant species introduced prior to the storm are finally starting to grow back. (more…)
Southold Town has set a public hearing on a proposed program that would allow homeowners who suffered property damage during Superstorm Sandy to receive a refund or credit back on their next town tax assessment.
On Wednesday, board members scheduled a hearing on the Superstorm Sandy Assessment Relief Act for Nov. 19 at 4:30 p.m.
The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October, proposes moving the property evaluation assessment date from March 1, 2013 to Oct. 29, 2012 – the day after Sandy wrecked millions of homes across the state.
The law would reassess the value of the property at the height of the storm damage, instead of at the increased value it was assessed at in March, after repairs were made.
Gov. Cuomo’s bill allows counties and municipalities to opt in to the program, which provides homeowners who filed a for Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive an adjustment on their property tax assessment to account for losses in value due to Sandy.
The amount of the tax refund, credit or assessment reduction would depend upon the FEMA damage assessment determination and inspections that were conducted by the assessor’s office based on bills paid to licensed contractors or paid homeowner insurance claims, according to the law.
If adopted, the town would be required to refund the homeowners the difference. Assessor Bob Scott estimated that about 35 to 50 homeowners might apply for the reassessment.
“There weren’t that many properties there that were affected,” he said during a phone interview Wednesday. “That is the problem we just don’t know how many people could qualify.”
Suffolk County would front the initial pay out to homeowners, Mr. Scott said, and Southold taxpayers would see the difference reflected in their next tax rate – under the real property tax line. According to Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for county executive Steve Bellone, the county is planning on adopting the legislation after interested towns pass it on the town level. The legislation will allow the county to bond to reimburse homeowners if federal funds are not available.
The law requires each taxing district, including school districts, to hold public hearings before opting into the policy.
The first town hearing will be held on Nov. 19 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Meeting Room.
The deadline to opt-in is Dec. 6 and homeowners would be required to submit their claims to the assessor’s officer before Jan. 21, 2014 for reimbursement.
One year ago, Superstorm Sandy touched down on the North Fork, bringing with her a wrath – or more precisely, a combination of tidal surge, winds and rain – unseen by most in the area.
A full year later, the Town of Southold is still owed $2 million in federal funding to help reimburse the cost borne by the storm.
This timeline takes a look back at some parts of the chaotic week that hit the North Fork.
Paul Squire contributed to this project.
One year after Hurricane Sandy swept across the North Fork, knocking down trees and power lines, flooding downtown Greenport and causing damage to town beaches and roadways, Southold Town officials said this week they are still waiting for roughly $2 million in federal funds after months of red tape, employee turnover and mistakes by the state have held up the town’s money.
Town officials said the delays have pushed back repair projects across town, including $600,000 in road reinforcement and more than $1 million in repairs to the Fishers Island airport.
“The delays are a setback, really a hardship for the town,” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “[We’re] having to duplicate everything we did. It was kind of like a double whammy.”
Town officials said they collected data like employee hours, contractor estimates and labor costs to fi ll out project worksheets — detailed documents explaining why the town needed funding for everything from employee overtime to repair costs.
The worksheets would then be completed by state contractors, who would pass them along to the New York State Office of Emergency Management. The state was supposed to review the worksheets and give them to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for final approval.
Funds from FEMA would then be distributed through the state.
But consultants in the state office incorrectly filled in details on some of the worksheets, forcing the town to resubmit its data, town officials said. Town accountants were the first to notice the discrepancies in the worksheets, said Lloyd Reisenberg, the town’s network system’s administrator and liaison to FEMA.
“[The state] put our data in the wrong columns on some of these spreadsheets. They mixed up the rates of some employees,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. It slows the rate of payment for the town.”
The town has had to resubmit the data for the worksheets in “Category A,” the classification for debris removal and cleanup that totals about $500,000, Mr. Reisenberg said.
“It’s a long, long, drawn-out process,” he said, though he conceded that red tape — not just human error — is responsible.
“They’re not trying to screw us, that’s just the nature of the beast, I guess,” Mr. Reisenberg said.
A representative for the state Office of Emergency Management said she would look into the hold-up but did not provide comment as of presstime.
Town officials said another reason for the delay was constantly rotating staff at the state level who needed to be caught up to speed multiple times.
“People [at the state level] get reassigned, so we keep dealing with a different set of minds,” Mr. Russell said. “We had to literally go through the personnel, identify the office they worked for and re-enter all the hours.”
Federal funds related to paying for emergency personnel have already fl owed into the town, Mr. Reisenberg said.
But town officials said they’re not even sure yet exactly how much money they’re owed, because the total of requested funds keeps changing with amendments to the incorrect worksheets.
“Until they get their act together, it’s a moving target,” said town comptroller John Cushman.
In the meantime, town officials are holding off on repairs or finding other ways to fund the projects, trying to buy time until FEMA funds arrive, so they don’t have to dip into the town’s budget to pay for the projects.
The biggest outstanding project is a series of major repairs to the Fishers Island airport, Mr. Reisenberg said. Lighting was damaged at the airport during Sandy and still hasn’t been repaired, he said. Estimates place the cost for those repairs at more than $1 million.
Additionally, the town is holding off on roughly $600,000 in mitigation projects that would strengthen the ends of about 30 roads damaged by the storm, said town engineer James Richter. When Sandy hit, the ends of roads — like Nassau Point Road — were “attacked” by the surge, he said.
Town employees filled in with sand where the road was eroded, which Mr. Richter said would support everyday traffic and use. But if another storm hits, the road ends would still be vulnerable.
“Those repairs didn’t make it erosion-proof,” he said.
The $600,000 in funding would pay for the town to use large rocks to fill in underneath the roads, he said. Workers would then fi ll the remaining space with sand. Mr. Richter said if the ground eroded again, the road would suffer less damage as a result.
Southold Town is also applying for just under $120,000 to to rebuild a footbridge in Greenport that was wiped away by the surge. The wooden walkway at the end of Pipes Neck Road was knocked apart and its concrete supports were damaged beyond repair, Mr. Richter said.
The new bridge, which provides access to a nature preserve, would be rebuilt with aluminum and could be dismantled and removed if a storm occurred nearby, he said.
Work on that bridge will not start until the town gets the FEMA money, he said.
“It’s all about the money,” Mr. Richter said.
With FEMA money held up, officials are pursuing other ways to pay for repairs or debris cleanup where possible. At its meeting Tuesday night, the Southold Town Board authorized the town to apply for a $30,000 state historic preservation grant to pay for cleanup around Fort Corchaug in Cutchogue.
Mr. Russell said that although the structure , nears Downs Farm, wasn’t damaged in the storm, the nearby popular hiking trail was clogged with fallen branches and trees. The town has already paid for cleanup at the site and is now seeking the state grant to refill its coffers, he said.
Mr. Russell said the town could use money from contingency lines to pay for the other outstanding repairs like the road ends and Fishers Island airport. But if the contingency lines ran out during the projects, any remaining costs would have to come out of the town’s fund balance.
“That would be a worst-case scenario,” he said. “We have a lot of work that’s left to be done, but we’re waiting.”
It’s never too early for area homeowners to prepare for the next big storm. So hear’s a guide to everything from choosing the right insurance coverage to setting up a generator.
Review your coverage
Atlantic hurricane season officially began June 1 and ends Nov. 30, and the busiest time of the season is just starting, weather officials said. Last season’s superstorm caused $18.75 billion in insured property losses across the Northeast, a figure that does not include damage covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded nonprofit group.
Now, almost a year since Sandy ravaged the Northeast, many homeowners still find themselves paying for repairs that weren’t covered by insurance.
One of the first things homeowners should do to make sure they’re ready for this storm season is re-examine their policies, said Elizabeth Hanlon of Allstate in Riverhead.
“Understand what your policy covers,” she said.
Standard homeowner insurance policies cover damage due to fire, lightning, hail, explosions and theft, according to local agents. The policies do not cover flood damage, a major component of the most recent storm.
Instead, all primary flood policies are underwritten through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, explained Peter Sabat, senior partner at Neefus Stype Agency Inc. in Aquebogue.
A primary flood policy provides up to $250,000 of building coverage and $100,000 of contents coverage, subject to a chosen deductible, Mr. Sabat said.
A homeowner considering flood coverage should realize that there is a 30-day waiting period for a policy to take effect, unless a mortgage closing is involved, he said. So people who find themselves scrambling for generators, water and batteries in the run-up to a storm won’t also be able to quickly buy some flood insurance.
Neither standard homeowners policies nor the National Flood Insurance Program, however, cover flood damage to sewer systems, which can cause raw sewage to back up into homes. Ms. Hanlon recommends that homeowners who have experienced such problems before purchase sewer backup coverage as a separate policy or as an addition to the standard policy.
Another potential consideration for homeowners is that if a home is badly damaged in a storm, repairs or rebuilding will have to adhere to updated building codes. Standard insurance policies don’t take into account the increased costs usually associated with conforming to revised codes, Ms. Hanlon said. For example, an older house may need to meet updated electrical codes, she said. Customers can purchase what’s called an ordinance or law endorsement, another add-on, to cover the costs of updating to meet new requirements.
And residents shouldn’t forget to consider contents of the home.
Mr. Sabat and Ms. Hanlon both recommend that homeowners inventory their possessions, everything from televisions to jewelry and furniture, and write down all purchase prices, dates, serial numbers and receipts, according to the Insurance Information Institute website, iii.org. There are now several apps available for smartphones that can help homeowners in this task. Both iii.org and allstate.com provide links to these applications.
Ms. Hanlon said homeowners could also simply throw receipts in a fireproof box, as long as they do so consistently after purchases.
Stock up on essentials
With the right insurance in place, homeowners should head to the hardware store before the last minute to get storm necessities and the proper tools and materials for post-storm cleanup (and to avoid lines at the stores!)
Aside from a radio, flashlights and batteries, “the number one priority is the generator,” said Chris McBride, store manager at Carl’s Equipment and Supply Inc. in Riverhead. Most homes in the area need around 5,500 watts he said.
Make sure a generator is kept outside but protected from the elements, he said, and that the muffler is not facing the inside of the house — the exhaust can be deadly.
For gasoline-powered generators, homeowners should keep at least 10 gallons of gas on hand, he said.
Dead trees or limbs should be trimmed before the storm, to help minimize wind damage, said Chris Mohr, owner of Chris Mohr landscaping in Cutchogue.
“Trees are the most dangerous thing during a hurricane,” he said.
You also want to put away or tie down anything, from lawn furniture to barbecues, that could get swept up and blown into the home, he said.
After it’s over
Once the storm has passed, assess the home for any damage, but be sure to call an insurance provider before making any repairs, Ms. Hanlon, the insurance agent, said.
“You’ve got to know the steps you need to take when making a claim,” she said. “You don’t just start fixing things.”
You can make emergency repairs to prevent further damage, such as removing a tree from a home, she said. But homeowners should call insurance providers for an assessment right away. People who took to fixing things immediately after Sandy sometimes found they got less money from their claims than they might have, she said.
When it comes to the yard, water anything that may have been hit by salt water, keeping in mind that salt spray can make its way inland in high winds, Mr. Mohr said.
“The salt water kills the roots, he said.
He recommends applying gypsum, which draws out the salt, “and you may have to use it a couple of times,” he said.
White pines are very vulnerable to damage from salt spray, he said. Try to rinse off the spray as soon as possible to prevent browning. Often, the spray has only hit the needles and not the roots, so the tree can be saved – but it may take up to a year to see improvement, he said.
Jerry Tuthill vividly remembers the anguish he felt the first time he surveyed the cruel hand superstorm Sandy dealt to his family’s 25-year-old Greenport restaurants, Claudio’s Clam Bar and Crabby Jerry’s.
“The docks were all torn up,” he said. “Crabby Jerry’s was completely wiped out. I built this place myself, so it really broke my heart.”
As devastating as Mr. Tuthill’s ordeal following Sandy was, it unfortunately wasn’t unique. Some North Fork businesses, like Pepi’s Italian Restaurant in Southold, were in ruins following the storm, which ravaged the Atlantic coastline late last October.
“It’s destroyed,” owner Pepi Gibinska told the Suffolk Times last November. “My deck is inside the restaurant. We’re trying to save what we can.”
Ten months later, Pepi’s remains closed.
“We’re working on reopening,” Ms. Gibinska said. “It takes time.” She declined further comment, but said she has obtained building permits to reconstruct the restaurant.
Scrimshaw Restaurant, which sits on the water at the end of Main Street in Greenport, also suffered extensive damage but was closed for only three weeks following the storm.
Rosa Ross, Scrimshaw’s owner and executive chef, said the restaurant had a significant amount of electrical damage. The eatery’s outdoor dock, however, fared the worst.
“It looked like a giant picked up the dock and just threw it back down,” she said. “It was a jumble of wood.”
The dock was replaced in June, Ms. Ross said, and although the restaurant has been up and running for months, customers still ask her if Scrimshaw is operating.
“I just had someone call me today and ask if we were open,” she said with a light chuckle this week.
“From mid-July to the end of Labor Day, the season was good,” Ms. Ross said. “We’re still struggling to recoup and pay off all our debts.”
In Mattituck, Love Lane Market was closed for eight months after an electrical malfunction caused by Sandy burned out the store’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, effectively spoiling all refrigerated merchandise. The store reopened at the beginning of July but has since struggled to find its momentum, owner Mike Avella said.
“We had an OK summer,” he said. “We’re definitely not where we were last year at this time. Unfortunately we had to restart from zero, pretty much.”
In addition to losing all the store’s inventory, Mr. Avella said, he also needed to hire and train new staff.
“It cost me a lot of money to come back in,” he said. “We’re maybe 75 percent of where we were last year with inventory.”
But as challenging as this year has been, Mr. Avella said, the future looks promising.
“On a positive note, we are applying for grants from New York State and we have high hopes that we’re going to receive a grant that will help us finish restocking and hire more employees,” he said. “Ideally, we’ll be in a position to take advantage of the Thanksgiving holidays.”
In Greenport, Mr. Tuthill is also looking on the bright side.
“I’m not looking forward to another storm like that, let me tell you,” he said. “But it could have been worse. A lot of people thought that we’d never be open for the season because we had so much damage.”
Claudio’s Clam Bar and Crabby Jerry’s both opened in May, on time for the summer rush. Claudio’s Restaurant also suffered damage but was open 36 hours after the storm.
And although Labor Day, which traditionally marks the end of the summer business season, came and went two weeks ago, Mr. Tuthill said the restaurant still sees a lot of business when the weather is nice.
“Greenport isn’t a hidden secret anymore,” he said. “People know about it now. I’m amazed how many people are coming here on the weekends and even during the week.”
If all goes well, he said, there will be plenty of visitors at this weekend’s Greenport Maritime Festival, where Bill Claudio is parade marshal.
“I’m hoping for a good weekend with the Maritime Festival,” Mr. Tuthill said. “That would really help us out a lot.”