Coney Islanders push for Sandy recovery

Two years after Superstorm Sandy battered the Coney Island waterfront, residents continue to struggle with repairs and recovery to their homes, houses of worship, businesses and environment. Fortunately, there are still some voices speaking out.

Pastor Connis Mobley of the United Community Baptist Church is one of those voices. On Wednesday, October 29, Mobley, Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams stood in front of the empty church building at 2701 Mermaid Avenue to call on banks and other financial institutions to provide low-interest loans for the rebuilding of local religious centers.

“It is shameful that some houses of worship in the community that were badly damaged by the storm have not been helped two years later,” said Jeffries. “There are churches, synagogues and mosques throughout the Coney Island peninsula, including the United Community Baptist Church, that remain uninhabitable or in disrepair. We cannot let this situation stand.”

Religious buildings reportedly do not qualify for federal grants due to the constitutional requirement of the separation of church and state. However, the Community Reinvestment Act encourages financial institutions to invest in underserved communities in exchange for credit towards future charters, mergers or acquisitions.

“We just want the community of Coney Island to know that we shall recover,” wrote church representatives on their Facebook page. “The building is not for sale! We are not going anywhere. Your presence and financial support will enable us to stay encouraged as we continue to fight the good fight of faith.”

Charles Denson, executive director of the Coney Island History Project, is also issuing a rallying cry, on behalf of Coney Island Creek and the environmental sustainability of Coney Island’s coastline.

Denson’s in-progress film, “Coney Island Creek After Sandy: Planning for the Future,” asks the question: “Will the creek be a community asset or a liability?” In it, the Coney Island native explores the creek’s history, uses in the community by residents and restaurants, pre and post-Sandy pollution, and possible restructuring in the future.

“I want to create awareness in the community of the [city’s] storm barrier plan because people are not aware that anything has been proposed,” Denson explained. “These are people who live here and use the creek for fishing, recreation and even religious ceremonies.

“In my years of putting this film [about the creek together], I ask about people’s  thoughts on the [proposed] dam and they go ‘What?!’ Where was I? How did this happen,” said Denson. “So now if people are aware, we can apply pressure on agencies to do it right. This is a really big piece of infrastructure that’s been promised, but might not be delivered.”

Councilmember Mark Treyger, who co-chairs the Council’s Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, expressed solidarity with Denson’s sentiment, stating that “in order to protect our future, we must address the past.

“There has to be a combination of grey and green infrastructure – the industry term is ‘sage’ – and the city has an obligation to explore all avenues,” Treyger stressed. “Community concerns must be addressed.”

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