Tough Lesson in Fish Farm Loss

Robert Valenti of the Multi-Aquaculture Systems fish farm on Napeague peered into a tank that held yearling striped bass until Tropical Storm Irene stole the electricity that sustained them. He has applied for a low-interest government loan to get the farm back on track. Russell Drumm

    Years ago, Bob Valenti got in the habit of sleeping at his Multi-Aquaculture Systems facility on Napeague when major storms threatened. He was there to weather Tropical Storm Irene along with the thousands of striped bass he farms in a series of tanks.
    The aquaculture facility’s water circulation and oxygen are supplied by electrically-powered equipment, and therein lay the rub, first when the system lost power, and second when Dr. Valenti sought help, in vain, from the Long Island Power Authority.
    What happened at the fish farm surely highlighted frustration with LIPA, but it also clarified the roles of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration in the wake of castastophic storms. 
    While Napeague, the sandy stretch between Amagansett and Montauk, kept its power for the most part during Irene, the lights and machinery went out at the fish farm. In the 40 minutes it took Dr. Valenti and crew to fire up the backup generator, $9,000 worth of striped bass died.
    “Three of us were sleeping here. At 4 a.m. the power goes off. By the time the generator was going the pump had lost its prime. We lost about 1,000 11/2-year-old bass. The waste of a lot of effort.”
    The marine biologist and fish farmer said his frustration with the Long Island Power Authority got to the point of painting “S.O.S. LIPA” on a sign and placing it on Cranberry Hole Road in an attempt to get the utility’s attention. The power was not restored for five days.
    “You can’t talk to them. I even called the supervisor of Islip for help. I don’t want a handout, but their business is selling power. This storm was nothing. What the hell are we going to do if a real hurricane comes?”
    Dr. Valenti said he contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see about assistance and was told the agency did not administer grants to commercial enterprises and recommended he contact the Small Business Administration for a low-interest loan.
    Mike McCormick, a FEMA spokesman, said the agency’s disaster assistance focused on residential needs and losses. “We don’t deal with businesses at all. We deal with grants having to do with shelter, also government-to-government money, and nonprofits that have to do with public service such as day care, hospitals, and public assistance.”
    Jelani Miller of the S.B.A. confirmed that businesses damaged in disasters were eligible for low-interest loans at 4 percent for up to 30 years. The money can be used to replace machinery and other equipment, as well as real estate, and “economic recovery,” meaning working capital, Mr. Miller said. S.B.A. involvement was triggered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency declaration.
    He added that low-interest loans were also available for homeowners and renters whose property was damaged in a disaster. In this case, homeowners and renters can get loans up to $200,000 at 2.5 percent interest for primary real estate repair or replacement, and up to $40,000 for personal property loss.
    S.B.A. offices in Suffolk County can be found in the Lee Dennison Building, Veterans Highway in Haupauge, and in the Riverhead Fire Headquarters, 540 Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead.