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After Sandy: Building for the Next Hit

Thursday, October 31, 2013

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One year after Hurricane Sandy crippled the East Coast, federal agencies have spent billions to rebuild damaged infrastructure but say there is more work to do—especially when it comes to protecting structures against future storms.

The U.S. Department of Transportation currently has $1.4 billion in transportation recovery work underway, according to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

And that's just a slice of the federal aid being used to rebuild after Sandy, according to the DOT, which just posted a list of recovery and resiliency funding.

The Environmental Protection Agency has doled out more than half a billion dollars to repair drinking water and wastewater infrastructure thrashed by the storm.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has spent the year re-evaluating severe weather guidelines, such as determining when severe storms and winds should cause a plant to start powering down.

Sandy's Wrath

Early on Oct. 29, 2012, Sandy made landfall in the Northeastern United States, causing particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York and resulting in 117 deaths in the U.S. and 69 in Canada and the Caribbean, according to information from CNN. The storm caused an estimated $65 billion in damage.

Hurricane Sandy
Photos: U.S. DOT

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Hurricane Sandy "triggered one of the worst transportation disasters in U.S. history." One year later, federal agencies are still working to help communities rebuild infrastructure.

"In the year since Hurricane Sandy, we have worked closely with our state and federal partners to help restore transportation systems in affected states, while also working to ensure that new infrastructure is built to withstand future storms," Foxx wrote in a blog dated one year after Sandy struck.

The DOT says Hurricane Sandy "triggered one of the worst transportation disasters in U.S. history." Immediately following the storm, the DOT released $29 million in emergency funds to rebuild roads, bridges, seawalls and tunnels.

Both EPA and DOT are working with more than two dozen other federal agencies to continue recovery and rebuilding as part of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce, established by President Obama in December.

'Devastating Reminder'

"Hurricane Sandy provided a devastating reminder of how much we depend on our transportation systems," Foxx wrote, specifically mentioning the storm's effect on the Montague Street Tunnel—part of New York City's subway system—which was flooded with 27 million gallons of corrosive salt water.

The tunnel has been closed since August as part of a 14-month project that disrupts the daily commute of 65,000 people. The project, which includes significant track work and replacement of lights, signals, and electrical equipment, will receive $236 million (about 90 percent of its estimated cost) from DOT's Federal Transit Administration.

According to DOT, additional recovery funding has included:

  • $5.7 billion from FTA to all affected transit agencies for recovery activities and anticipated resiliency projects;
  • $586 million from the Federal Highway Administration in emergency relief funding to impacted states and federal lands;
  • $30.2 million from the Federal Railroad Association to help Amtrak repair damage along the Northeast Corridor; and
  • $28.5 million from the Federal Aviation Administration in emergency relief funding to repair critical FAA infrastructure.

Funding for resiliency projects includes:

  • $185 million in relief funding from FRA to the Hudson Yards Right-of-Way Preservation project, which involves creating two flood-resistant tunnels under the Hudson River between NY and NJ;
  • Replacement docks and boardwalks at Fire Island National Seashore and Gateway National Recreation Area that are designed to tolerate being submerged by using stronger piles and hurricane ties; and
  • $1.3 billion from FTA to increase transit systems' resiliency to future disasters, including elevating storm drains in NY and installing high-capacity water pumps and back-up sources of power.
Federal emergency relief funds

Sandy sent 27 million gallons of corrosive salt water into a New York subway tunnel. The tunnel has been closed since August for a 14-month rehabilitation project.

"In the year since the storm struck, we have stood by our partners every step of the way," Foxx said. "And we will be with them in the future, as they finish the job with transportation systems that are even stronger than before and better able to withstand future storms."

Water Facilities Recover

Transportation wasn't the only infrastructure that Sandy ravaged.

"Hurricane Sandy devastated more than 200 wastewater treatment plants and over 80 drinking water facilities across the East Coast," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wrote in a blog on Tuesday.

"It caused extensive damage and power failures that released over 10 billion gallons of raw sewage into local waters and shut down drinking water plants in dozens of communities across multiple states," McCarthy said.

In May, EPA announced that it would provide $340 million in grants to New York and $229 million to New Jersey to improve damaged wastewater and drinking-water treatment facilities.

Over 200 EPA employees worked to restore water and wastewater treatment facilities, as well as repairing damage at local Superfund sites and supporting clean-ups following hazardous releases from underground storage tanks.

"It's clear that our nation's infrastructure and climate change resilience simply aren't built to manage the record-breaking storms that are becoming ever-more frequent," said McCarthy.

Nuclear Safety

Before the storm even hit, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it was taking unprecedented precautions and sending additional inspectors to nine power plants. Three reactors experienced shutdowns during the storm, and a fourth was in an "Alert."

"The NRC focused on the safety of nuclear power plants in the storm's path as Sandy bore down on the region, dispatching additional inspectors to augment the resident inspectors at some of the potentially affected sites to provide 24-hour coverage," Neil Sheehan, NRC's Public Affairs Officer for Region 1, wrote in a blog posted Monday (Oct. 28).

Sheehan said that since the storm, many nuclear power plants have given severe weather guidelines a "fresh evaluation."

The powerful storm reshaped entire sections of the U.S. East Coast, prompting the federal government to announce plans to remap parts of it.


Tagged categories: Department of Transportation (DOT); Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Infrastructure; Nuclear Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Wastewater Plants

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