This Op-Ed by Nicole Malliotakis originally appeared in the Staten Island Advance

New Yorkers, especially Staten Islanders, have learned many lessons in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. One of the most important being the need for members of our community to stand up and speak out about the challenges the East Shore faces as we continue to rebuild and work to prevent similar devastation from future storms.

We have all heard or experienced the horror stories about one level of government or another turning a deaf ear to the community during the recovery and rebuilding process. It was usually a knee-jerk reaction by bureaucrats who feel they know better than the people who have actually lived in our neighborhoods for decades.

In the weeks and months following Hurricane Sandy, Borough President James Oddo, Senator Diane Savino and I stated very clearly that this tragedy, in some somber way, presented an opportunity for the East Shore to rebuild a stronger, more resilient housing stock and we needed to be smart about where we rebuilt and what we built. Unfortunately, these pleas fell on deaf ears at City Hall and, instead, we saw a patchwork of the good, the bad and the ugly along our beachfront community.

Staten Island should not allow this to happen again.

Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the planning stages of the East Shore Seawall Project which will run from Fort Wadsworth to Oakwood Beach at a projected cost of $615 million, with investment from the city, state and federal governments. In addition to the actual seawall and boardwalk, the project will include construction of levees, tide gates, raised roadways and improved drainage in an effort to mitigate the destructive force of future storms.

Obviously, the size and scope of this project will have a near-permanent effect on how, we, as residents, access and utilize the East Shore waterfront, one of Staten Island’s great natural resources and a focal point for outdoor recreation in the borough. With construction set to begin in 2019, it’s time to finalize our vision for the shoreline, using public-private partnerships, and make it the magnificent beachfront it should be, with restaurants, vendors, kayak and paddle board rentals, a bike path, fields, courts, amusement and playgrounds.

We’ve already witnessed that my annual Yoga on the Beach series, the beach bike rentals I advocated for and our borough president’s annual concert series have all been extremely popular.

To its credit, the New York City Parks Department held a public meeting in February to explore plans and designs reflecting community input and ideas to adapt our shoreline parks to the Army Corps’ protective seawall. But the agency, along with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, needs to cut the red tape and bureaucracy that stands in the way of economic development and private investment. Staten Islanders have longed for watersport rentals, outdoor cafes and vendors along the beach, but rules and regulations have made it so undesirable to entrepreneurs. This is our opportunity to start with a clean slate and make Staten Island’s waterfront, along with the commercial strips of Midland Beach and South Beach, comparable to that of Pier Village.

As we approach the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, lets reflect, not only on how far our community has come, but rethink how far we can truly go.