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Blumenthal among senators asking for flood relief for Sandy-stricken states

Published 3:33 pm, Thursday, December 6, 2012
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Senators from Sandy-stricken areas said Wednesday that federally funded flood prevention is now a necessity in the face of a new climate reality.

At a hearing before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, lawmakers, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sen. Job Lieberman, I- Conn., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., delivered pleas for funds to help rebuilding efforts in their states.

Superstorm Sandy was the second costliest storm in American history after Hurricane Katrina, Lieberman told the committee. He noted that natural disaster mitigation measures in Connecticut would have to take into consideration variety of vulnerabilities of the state's infrastructure and span from implementing flood controls along the shore to grounding electricity in the areas where wind damage led to power outages.

Similarly, New York lawmakers say they also are looking ahead into the future.

"New York has no choice,'' Schumer said. "We must simultaneously rebuild and adapt to protect against future storms. We have to do both.

"Sandy reminded us of a very stark reality. We can either invest in protections now or we will pay more later."

Also, Schumer suggested that utility companies be required to include mitigation proposals in their requests for reimbursement for Sandy damage.

At the hearing, Blumenthal insisted that long term "these investments do work."

However, he said, his constituents are afraid that in light of the current fiscal cliff negotiations, austerity may impede recovery.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, picked by President Barack Obama to oversee the federal recovery effort, reassured the committee that Washington plans to invest in mitigation _ construction to lessen damage of future hurricanes and other natural disasters.

"And we know now, from studies [by] FEMA and elsewhere, for about every dollar we invest in mitigation, we get four dollars back in avoided costs over time,'' he said. ``That is something we have to recognize as we go in.''

Pointing to New Jersey shore as an example, Donovan said he saw a stark difference between areas that have previously invested in flood controls and areas that had not. Consequently, he said, in places where the government invests in recovery, significant thought has to be given to mitigation.

Such plans must to be made sooner rather than later, he said.

"As we plan literally the next few weeks and months on how to rebuild the infrastructure of the region, decisions will be made about whether we can rebuild smarter or stronger,'' Donovan warned. ``And we can't go back and restart those plans six month from now. We need to know what funds are available to consider what smart mitigation measures can be included."

W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told lawmakers that appropriating funds for recovery efforts will not be a one- time deal.

Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA is still dealing with fund requests for recovery in the afflicted regions, he said. Consequently, post-Sandy recovery budget appropriations will have to be made every fiscal year in the near future.

jana.kasperka@chron.com