FEMA tells Schoharie County no aid for historic bridge, jail costs
County officials expect to appeal rejection; millions at risk
SCHOHARIE COUNTY The Blenheim Covered Bridge is being considered an artifact — akin to a vase or a painting — by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and as such FEMA is not going to help replace it, County Treasurer William Cherry said Friday.
Cherry, charged with coordinating the county government’s post-flood recovery, told the Board of Supervisors on Friday that it’s likely two appeals will have to be pursued — one for the bridge, the other for hundreds of thousands of dollars in incarceration costs.
Up until now, officials understood FEMA would cover the “extraordinary” cost the county incurs boarding prisoners because the Schoharie County Jail was heavily damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.
Cherry said boarding prisoners at the Albany County Jail has cost roughly $500,000 already and rebuilding the local jail could take as long as 10 months — meaning county taxpayers could get stuck with a $1 million bill for the boarding.
That adds to the loss of $4.2 million — the estimated value of the 157-year-old Blenheim Covered Bridge. The 210 foot-long icon that adorns town letterhead and vehicles was swept away by the Schoharie Creek and smashed to pieces during the flood.
Rebuilding the bridge is among goals of residents in Blenheim — and beyond — as they work to put the valley back together.
“It’s really devastating news that FEMA has made that ruling,” said Blenheim Supervisor Robert Mann Jr. “The town of Blenheim and the residents of Blenheim view it as a critical piece of our recovery.”
Aside from its age, the bridge was honored because it represents one of civil engineering’s early use of iron nuts and bolts. The bridge has attracted many tourists into the county and also served as a meeting place for residents.
“It’s an important part of our economy and our county’s identity,” said historian Carle J. Kopecky, director of the Old Stone Fort Museum.
Program personnel involved in reviewing the county’s application were not immediately available for comment late Friday, FEMA spokesman Matthew Russell said.
Cherry said the deadline for the FEMA appeals process will be set once the county gets an official letter denying assistance on the two requests.
He said the county’s post-flood recovery consultant firm, Simmons Recovery, would be drafting an argument based on the FEMA rule book detailing why the bridge repair and inmate boarding costs should be covered.
So far, Cherry said, Schoharie County has spent approximately $15 million on flood-related work. Roughly $3.3 million in assistance has come in from FEMA and $1.07 million has been provided by the state Emergency Management Office.