The destruction of Staten Island’s Great Kills Marina after Super Storm Sandy.
This story is being co-published with New York public radio's WNYC.
If Staten Island's Great Kills Marina Café is able to reopen this spring after Sandy ripped apart its interior 2013 blowing out windows and punching through walls 2013 it will be thanks to assistance from the federal government.
The Small Business Administration has approved the restaurant for a disaster loan of almost $1 million.
There's just one problem: Newly drawn FEMA flood maps show the cafe is at high risk of flooding again, raising the question of whether it makes sense to rebuild there or move elsewhere.
The cafe is not alone.
A WNYC and ProPublica analysis of federal data shows at least 10,500 home and business owners have been approved for $766 million in SBA disaster loans to rebuild in areas that the government now says could flood again in the next big storm. The data, which shows loans approved through mid-February, was obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.
More loans could be going to flood-prone areas. The analysis did not cover Long Island or Connecticut.
The loans require borrowers to get flood insurance, which in turn could encourage some to rebuild properties to be more flood-resistant. However, for many owners there's no requirement they raise their properties to the heights FEMA recommends.
The result: the federal government is helping people rebuild despite the risk that flooding will again destroy the properties.
The SBA says it's not their job to assess whether it's smart to build in flood-prone areas.
"Our mission is to help these homeowners and business become whole again," said Carol Chastang, an SBA spokeswoman. "We really aren't in a position to tell people where or where not to rebuild."
Such a hands-off approach worries a diverse coalition of advocates -- including conservative groups, environmental organizations, insurance associations and housing coalitions. These groups are urging government at all levels to change the way it builds in disaster-prone areas and insures such properties.
Environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation say the best flood protection are wetlands and to leave stretches of the coast undeveloped.
"Ideally we're going to help people move away from the flood zone and not give them assistance to rebuild exactly as is," said Joshua Saks, the federation's legislative director. "But we recognize it's a very personal decision, it's a local decision."
For Sam Corigliano, the decision is obvious. Corigliano opened the Great Kills Marina Café in 1980 and built it into a neighborhood fixture over the years.
"We've been here 32 years, had 32 years of good luck, and good fortune and laughs. We've had parties here, christenings, family events, a lot of happy times. We had one bad day," Corigliano said. "You don't walk away from one bad day."