by Jon Alexander
A New York lawmaker may have found a way to combine the damage from the widespread April floods and localized May flash floods in a way that could result in federal aid for affected private property owners.
Flooding across 23 counties in late April caused an estimated $36 million in damage to public infrastructure and many more millions in damage to private property. Flash floods ripped through northern Warren County in late May, causing more than $13 million in public property damage, most of which was in Thurman.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency concluded the damage to public infrastructure caused by the April floods warranted federal aid, but requests for help to pay for damage from the May floods have thus far been denied.
FEMA announced last week that aid to private landowners would not be made accessible in the 15 counties that applied following the April floods.
But Congressman Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, may have stumbled onto another way, via the federal Small Business Administration.
"There are really multiple avenues that have yet to be explored," Owens said Tuesday. "The genesis of the idea came about through conversations with USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture); they asked us if we were aware of the SBA."
Under the SBA guidelines, counties with at least 25 homes or businesses that had their market value decreased by 40 percent or more because of flood damage could be declared eligible for low-interest loans. Governor Andrew Cuomo must officially seek the SBA designation, something Owens is requesting.
Hundreds of homes along Lake Champlain, for example, remained submerged for days as record-high floodwaters persisted. In North Creek, the Adirondack Woodworking Co. had to close its doors after Hudson River floodwater destroyed almost all of its manufacturing equipment. Waterfront homes and businesses from Moreau to Tupper Lake were heavily damaged in April.
Congressman Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, has been calling for the May flash floods, which brought an estimated $7 million in damage to the small Warren County town of Thurman alone, to be included in FEMA's emergency declaration. FEMA and state Emergency Management Office officials were in Warren County over the last week, touring numerous towns damaged by the May floods and spending days with local officials.
Local leaders are hopeful the federal agency will expand its previous declaration for public infrastructure, citing the fact that post-decision FEMA visits are a rarity.
"I think they've recognized the significance of the damage," said Warren County Department of Public Works Superintendent Jeff Tennyson.
While local officials are hopeful the area will get some federal aid to help pay for May's flooding, Owens' idea could see the two events rolled into one as far as damage to private property is concerned.
"The second flood would allow a larger aggregate of houses and businesses and make the case even stronger," Owens said.
Both regional congressional offices are in conversations with state officials in Albany.