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Battered and burned, Freeport learned to rebuild after Sandy

Freeport, LI
J.D. Allen
Freeport, Long Island

Freeport’s mayor, Robert Kennedy, is proud of his village's Nautical Mile. Packed with bars, it’s a popular spot for nightlife and a good time.

“It's called the fishing capital of the Northeast,” Kennedy said. “We have plenty of fishing charter boats here. They're all along Nautical Mile, and there are several fish stores here. The place is really built up over the past eight or nine years.”

Re-vamping the area wasn’t a choice. Ten years ago, Superstorm Sandy swept through Long Island, taking homes and businesses with it.

Mayor Robert Kennedy
J.D. Allen
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy

After the storm, in order to receive government funding to fix badly damaged property, business owners and residents had to physically raise their buildings. Now, most of the buildings in the area are raised in an attempt to avoid future destruction.

After the storm, carpenters like Ben Jackson were kept busy.

The front door to Ben’s General Contracting is up a 10 foot staircase.

“Where we are standing, our heads would be underwater,” Jackson said. “You know, we're survivors down here. We don't have much of a choice. You know, you gotta' keep working and keep your business going.”

Jackson and Kennedy joined WSHU's podcast Higher Ground in 2021 for a tour of the village after Sandy laid waste to harbors along Long Island’s south shore nearly 10 years earlier. Freeport has since rebuilt and is refocused on adapting to storms.

“My home is in what they call a V-zone, which is a heavy wave action zone,” Jackson said. “So it's also built to take the impact of a wave hitting the house. Now, we did have a few houses where the foundations actually collapsed because of wave action. So they said, everything's re-engineered and a lot stronger, built better.”

Freeport, LI
J.D. Allen
A canal runs along main street in Freeport, Long Island.

Homes were also raised. For some, it was to avoid paying massive premiums for flood insurance. That alone can put these homes financially out of reach for many.

A national flood insurance program funded by taxes for makes it easier for those who remain. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, up to $250,000 is available to eligible single-family homes and $100,000 for its contents. Homeowners who incur more damage have to pay for the rest themselves.

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The federal government also provided grants to rebuild in Freeport and the rest of Long Island after Sandy.

“Look, I've lived here my whole life, almost 60 years, we’ve had two major floods, and they've been in the last 10 years,” Kennedy said. “So hopefully, these are what they call 100 year storms. And we don't see them again for a good long time.”

Kennedy isn’t too optimistic, though. He said he understands that ocean levels are rising, and they could take infrastructure with them.

“We need to recognize the fact that water is definitely increasing here,” Kennedy said. “We're gonna have problems in the future. If we have another Superstorm Sandy, people are going to move out; they're not going to come back a second time.”

Most of 160 vacant homes left in Freeport are damaged from Sandy. Kennedy said those homeowners will be fined by the village, if tax dollars will be spent on their repairs under its “nuisance housing” law passed in 2022.

To hear the whole story, listen to Higher Groundwherever you get your podcasts.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.
Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.
Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.