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FEMA to help rebuild Schoharie firehouse

New building will be outside flood plain

Wednesday, June 6, 2012
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— After months of anticipation, Schoharie’s volunteer firefighters got some bittersweet news Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover the bulk of the cost to rebuild the Niagara Engine Co. No. 6 firehouse.

But the fire station — put out of commission by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene — will be rebuilt down the road, not on Grand Street, where it has been located for more than 50 years.

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, announced FEMA’s decision in a news release Tuesday.

“We cannot soon forget the damage and devastation of last year’s tragic storms Irene and Lee,” he said in the release. “But today’s news is another small step in the right direction of the rebuilding process. I will continue to work with FEMA and other federal agencies to ensure our neighbors and local communities have the resources we need to enable a full and strong recovery.”

Few details on plans were immediately available.

Tonko’s office said the cost of building a new station is expected to exceed $900,000 and FEMA is agreeing to cover 75 percent of it. It’s unclear yet where the remaining money will come from.

Firefighters said the news puts to rest uncertainty that’s accompanied the laborious application process that’s been ongoing for months.

“This is the first good news I’ve heard. We’ve been waiting since Irene. We never knew one way or another whether this FEMA funding package was going to come through,” said Schoharie County Fire Coordinator Matt Brisley, a 28-year member of Niagara Engine Co. No. 6.

The volunteer fire department moved most of its operations and equipment spared by flooding to a vacant tractor sales facility on Fort Road, and the department expects to build its new firehouse on that land.

The tractor store can hold most of the equipment, but the department’s pumper truck is being housed at the Scho-Wright Ambulance facility.

The new location — just down the road from the Old Stone Fort — is outside of the flood zone.

But the move will be heartfelt by members, said Firefighter Greg Overholt, a member of the department’s building committee. Members took a vote weeks ago and said they wanted to do what they could to bring the fire station back to its original Grand Street location.

“That was unanimous,” Overholt said.

“None of us are really happy. We all want to go back to the way it was, we want to go back to where we’ve been,” he said.

It was nice being in the center of the village, he said, recalling village residents walking down the road to participate in fundraisers and “Vegas Nights.”

There was some hope the existing station could be raised out of the reach of the Schoharie Creek, Overholt said. He said fire companies did just that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — but that was because they didn’t have any other place to rebuild.

“In our case, if you have another viable place to go, [FEMA wants] you to go there,” he said.

Critical infrastructure, such as a fire station, has to be moved out of the 500-year floodplain to be eligible for federal aid to rebuild, Overholt said.

The department’s application process was complicated by the fact that the fire department — like many village property owners — didn’t have flood insurance.

Overholt said there’s still benefits to be seen from the move out of town, including the fact that there’s more space on the Fort Road parcel where a building project will be planned.

He said members will get used to the new spot.

“I think we’re going to have to. There’s no other place to go,” Overholt said.

 
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