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FLOOD: Federal assistance likely available for Mohawk Valley victims

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
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Severe damage is evident Tuesday at the dam structure at Lock E-12 on the Mohawk River in Tribes Hill.
Severe damage is evident Tuesday at the dam structure at Lock E-12 on the Mohawk River in Tribes Hill.

— Mohawk Valley communities hit by recent flooding will likely qualify for federal assistance, based on early state estimates of damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure.

State and federal inspectors were continuing to assess damage Tuesday, following Monday’s preliminary state assessment that more than $13 million worth of damage in total was inflicted on the 12 counties affected by the storm. Based on those initial estimates, which represent a small picture of the overall damage, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and local federal legislators have written formal requests to President Barack Obama for a federal disaster declaration, which would qualify impacted regions for federal assistance.

Individual assistance, public assistance and hazard mitigation funds could become available if there is a disaster declaration.

The joint Preliminary Damage Assessment, which began Monday, needs to be completed before the state can qualify. As of early Tuesday, only nine of 12 affected counties had been reviewed, with only one or two communities reviewed in each county.

In Cuomo’s letter to Obama, he wrote, “The true cost of this disaster will only be known once the waters recede ... and all of the damage becomes evident. We are confident that once we complete damage assessments in these areas, it will far exceed the state’s threshold of $26.7 million.”

Without federal aid, the governor wrote, the outlook for recovery is bleak, especially following a string of earlier weather events. “Without the support authorized under [a federal disaster declaration], the additional burdens from this event will further undermine our ability to recover from the unrelenting impacts of Winter Storm Nemo, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.”

Local congressional representatives, including Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, and Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, added in their own letter to Obama that federal assistance is vital to any recovery effort.

“Many families have been displaced from their homes, and local businesses have been devastated,” they wrote. “Meanwhile, local governments are struggling to find funding to repair roads, culverts, bridges and other infrastructure damaged or destroyed. Without assistance from the federal government, many local leaders question how they will be able to make necessary repairs, the cost of which far exceeds local resources.”

In the village of Fort Plain, which was the hardest-hit community in Montgomery County, Mayor Guy Barton said this weekend state and federal assistance will be needed for rebuilding destroyed roads, which the village can’t afford to do.

Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Adam Schwabrow, who remembers the rebuilding effort in Montgomery County in 2006, said this weekend the village will definitely need federal assistance.

The initial estimate doesn’t include emergency response costs or damage to state-owned property, like the canal system. Shane Mahar, a spokesman for the state’s Thruway Authority, said officials were still trying to calculate the damage done to the canal system, as access is limited in certain areas because currents are too strong.

In Cuomo’s letter to the president requesting a federal disaster declaration, he estimates more than 100 miles of the Erie Canal had to be closed and six locks sustained damage because of debris and flooding. There was no damage to the Erie Canal between Lock 2 in Waterford and Lock 11 in Amsterdam, which will allow these sections to re-open as soon as water levels recede and navigational aids can be verified as being in the correct place.

Mahar said private contractors were working Monday at Lock 12 in Tribes Hill, Lock 14 in Canajoharie and Lock 15 in Fort Plain. “They’re doing debris removal. … There is a significant amount of debris backed up there,” he said, noting that Canajoharie’s lock probably suffered the worst.

Until debris can be cleared from the locks and other parts of the canal can become accessible, any recovery efforts could be slowed by rainfall, which is predicted to hit the region throughout the week.

Mahar said it is impossible to gauge the extent of the damage. More than 60 employees from the state Thruway Authority were sent out into the field to conduct damage assessments and start repairs where possible. Additional state employees and equipment have been sent to Fort Plain for the cleanup there.

 
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