October 28, 2013- By Steven E. Greer
During the October 22nd meeting of the BPCA board, Chairman/CEO Dennis Mehiel made it public record that the BPCA internally allowed Pier A to flood during Hurricane Sandy.
Mr. Mehiel explained an anecdote, “It was 10:00 or 11:00 at night, the phone rings…it was Demetri (former BPCA President) and Gwen (current VP of Assets)…they said, “We’re over here at Pier A. We’ve got all of these sandbags to try to protect it against the flood, not to get into Pier A.” Meantime, somebody had figured out the previous high tide was 13 feet above normal, whatever it was….it was clear there was a lot of water coming. Gwen said, “We’ve got to take down these sandbags and let this place flood, so that when the water recedes it will empty and we won’t end up with a bathtub of saltwater, and all of the impact that that would mean…corrosion, mold…”. And just that one significant change to a standard protocol had an enormous impact to what we confronted at Pier A after the flood waters had receded….so I’d like to add my kudos to the staff”.
The BPCA then went on to explain that they expect to be reimbursed by FEMA for more than 90% of all the costs associated with Hurricane Sandy.
One year ago, when Hurricane Sandy flooded Pier A, it was still a construction project many months away from completion. Much of the internal wood construction was old and dilapidated. After the flood, the wood was replaced with more expensive mahogany, instead of pine. In short, Pier A got an upgrade that was funded by FEMA.
The decision to remove sandbags from Pier A is baffling and defies logic, unless the plan was to bilk FEMA out of money. If the concern was that the coming flood waters would be higher than expected, then higher sandbags could have been added. Also, if the “bathtub” scenario occurred, the water could have been quickly released by removing the sandbags, preventing mold and corrosion.
Demetri Boutris, the former president quoted by Dennis Mehiel is conveniently no longer with the BPCA and unlikely to suffer any prosecution or investigations now. However, Mr. Mehiel was the CEO at the time, and he was ultimately responsible for signing off to the pan to remove the sandbags from Pier A.
Federal officials with oversight over FEMA are aware of the BPCA’s decision and indicated that an investigation will ensue.