Governor Kathy Hochul toured the flood-stricken Rockaways of Queens Saturday in the wake of Winter Storm Elliot, and pledged that the state would work quickly to bring necessary resources to help affected residents recover.
The area near Jamaica Bay was hit with up to three feet of water Friday as a result of the storm and tidal flooding, according to Hochul. The rapid drop in temperature — with every part of New York now dealing with arctic cold — caused rapid freezing, compounding the peril to local residents.
“We saw what happened on the bay side when the bulkheads were compromised once again,” Hochul said during her Dec. 24 press conference at Goldie Maple Academy in Queens. Joining her at the presser were Congress Member Gregory Meeks, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, state Senator James Sanders, Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson, City Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers, state Director of Operations Kathryn Garcia and city Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol.
The state and city government have been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a plan to rebuild the bulkheads and combat flooding, but those remain in the planning stages, with the public comment period set to begin in January.
Hochul explained that she’s asking the federal government to declare a disaster area in the Rockaways as well as parts of western New York, which was hit hard by a blizzard and lake-effect snow that Elliot caused.
Meeks added that he’s been in talks with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to find ways to cut the red tape and get financial assistance quickly to victims of the latest flooding. He also spoke of the urgency to rebuild the bayside bulkheads to prevent future coastal flooding woes.
That being said, Meeks said he understands the frustration of local residents, some of whom still haven’t fully recovered from the damage that Hurricane Sandy wrought in 2012.
“It is real frustration. It seems to be plan after plan after plan, and never coming to reality. But I think this time it is becoming a reality,” the congressman said. “Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed this year, there is money. It’s not going to be a question of whether we have the money to do it. The money is in the bank. We just have to go through the particulars here.”
Those particulars, as Meeks and Richards explained, include exploring whether the bulkheads and pumping stations could be built on city- and state-owned land in the Rockaways area rather than taking private property via eminent domain.
Richards added that the Army Corps of Engineers have also spoken with his team about other infrastructure improvements around Queens to combat the effects of climate change.
“This work cannot soon enough,” Richards said, then turning to Governor Hochul. “If I had it my way, Madam Governor, the Army Corps of Engineers would start ASAP.”
Hochul and Richards urged impacted residents to call 311 to apply for assistance. Iscol added that they can also visit the Goldie Maple Academy and P.S. 207 in Howard Beach to connect with city and state representatives regarding assistance.
Claims may also be filed at nyc.gov/reportdamage.
Iscol said agency reps are working around the clock this Christmas weekend to respond to the emergency.
Mayor Eric Adams was not in attendance for the Dec. 24 briefing with the governor; Iscol said hizzoner has been in contact with his administration to coordinate the storm response.