Group pushes new funding for resilient infrastructure

by Marie French

ALBANY — A group created to oversee a resilient design competition after Hurricane Sandy is pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to provide billions for infrastructure built to withstand the effects of climate change.

The group, Rebuild by Design, is proposing the creation of a comprehensive planning process for communities and a new “Resilient Infrastructure Fund” to help local governments make shoreline improvements, restore wetlands, install rain gardens, widen culverts or make other stormwater infrastructure investments. The fund should also support a buyout program to help those at risk of repeated flooding relocate, the group said.

“Communities all around the state are dealing with flooding,” said Amy Chester, managing director of Rebuild by Design.

The group issued a report that found that every county in New York has had a flooding disaster at least twice in the past decade and 60 percent have declared flooding disasters five times. Climate change is expected to increase flooding risks in waterfront communities.

Cuomo plans to propose an initiative to restore wetlands and waterways in his upcoming budget. Details are limited, but the focus is primarily on ecological benefits, with the added bonus of improved resiliency.

“We believe that every piece of infrastructure that New York builds should have some type of resilient benefit,” Chester said.

The report also outlines two funding options for the proposal.

One potential option is a property-casualty insurance surcharge, with some types of insurance not affected by flooding risk exempted. A surcharge of 2 percent would generate roughly $17 billion annually, according to a Goldman Sachs analysis.

Another option lawmakers and Cuomo could consider, Chester said, is a bond act. Voter approval would be needed, but such a move could provide $2 billion to $3 billion in funding, she said.

Not taking action to address climate change and flooding would cost the state $55 billion over the next decade, according to an analysis prepared for the group by AECOM, an engineering firm.

The Resilient Infrastructure Design proposal has backing from labor, environmental, business and local government groups that are part of an advisory group formed by Rebuild by Design. Members include the Associated General Contractors of New York State, Association of Towns of the State of New York, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, Environmental Advocates of New York, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Building Congress and others.

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