For a community with a long history of flooding, it’s been a long slog toward mitigation.
By Robin Jovanovich
For a community with a long history of flooding, it’s been a long slog toward mitigation. Luckily, owing to the work of many dedicated residents over several years, when Rye was selected for a potential $3 million in federal funding as part of the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program in 2014, we had a game plan.
Bernie Althoff and Holly Kennedy, members of the Rye Flood Advisory Committee, who were co-chairs of the Rye NYRCR Planning Committee, were ready to uncork the champagne after the Rye City Council, at its October 7 meeting, passed a resolution 6-1 to accept the funding. Now the projects, long considered and mapped out, can begin in earnest.
In a conversation with Kennedy and Althoff after the vote, they not only thanked their committee (Mack Cunningham, Frank Gadaleta, Rex Gedney, Sara Goddard, Gregg Howells, Josh Nathan, Richard Runes, Tracy Stora, and Birgit Townley), and a number of residents — Carolina Johnson, Bob Gay, Andy Goodenough, and Assemblyman Steve Otis for his guidance and help in the process. They also credited “the grace of God, in the form of Hurricane Sandy,” which prompted new concern and additional funding for communities that suffered enormous damage.
“When NY Rising called us, we were well prepared,” said Althoff. Kennedy noted that The Flood Advisory Committee was established in 2012 and had been “quietly working on upstream mitigation plans.”
The Rye citizens group had its first meeting with NY Rising representatives in March of 2014. Three months later, the prospect of Rye being awarded funding was in sight. After that, the Rye committee met every two weeks, held public workshops at which they invited community input and ideas, and regularly reported their progress to the City Council. And the Council regularly praised the project and the process.
But when the Committee completed its 145-page report and asked in late summer for the Council to approve the resolution, there was unexpected hesitation. Mayor Joe Sack shared concerns about “the fair housing implications” of accepting Community Development Block Grant funds for Disaster Relief from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Would this oblige the City to add more affordable housing?
Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson received legal assurances from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery that it would “not give rise to additional obligations” and reported back to the Council.
But when the Council brought the resolution to a vote, Mayor Sack was the lone ‘no’ vote.
“No one we’ve spoken to could understand why the City would turn down the funding,” said Althoff. “Everyone in Rye is looking for grant money.”
While the Mayor went so far as to decry “the Floodites [who] audibly jeered me” in his column in the Rye City Review, Althoff took the high road. “It is our intention to work with the Mayor to ensure these projects are done.”
As Kennedy said, “We won a significant victory on October 7, but the real victory is when the projects are complete.”
Both they and their committee are excited to work with City Manager Marcus Serrano, “who encouraged us and has accomplished a lot in the other Westchester communities he’s worked in.”