Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The City of Lockport is claiming public and private property losses of $7.2 million caused by last week's rain storm.
A written estimate was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office on Sunday, to help persuade the governor to declare Niagara County a disaster area due to flash flooding from the June 28 storm, which dumped about 5 inches of rain around Lockport in a few hours. A disaster declaration would open the door to partial federal reimbursement for material losses and municipal spending on storm cleanup and related repairs.
The city's estimate includes $1.2 million in municipal spending and public property losses, and $6 million in residential and commercial property losses due to flooding. Across the city this past Friday night, volunteer and professional firefighters pumped water out of about 600 basements, according to Mayor Michael Tucker. Responders found about six feet of standing water in at least 200 cases, he said.
It seems unlikely that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will agree to reimburse most private property losses — the agency reportedly doesn't regard damage in basements as damage to primary structures — but the city included them anyway, just in case.
"You don't know unless you try," Tucker said. "We're talking to our state and federal officials, trying to make the case. It's all we can do."
Property owners who suffered losses because of the storm are encouraged to file notices of claim with the city, to create a record in the event the losses become FEMA-aidable, he said. For information about filing a notice of claim, call the city clerk's office at 439-6676.
Anyone who suffered property losses should document it immediately for insurance purposes, advised Mary Murphy of Murphy Insurance Co.
"We're telling (customers) to start cleanup as soon as possible, to prevent mold, and as they're doing that, to list and photograph everything that's been damaged, everything they're throwing away," she said.
While most homeowners' insurance policies don't cover flood damage, special riders covering damages due to sewer backups and sump pump failures are increasingly prevalent in the industry, according to Murphy. Among her customers, "more have it than do not," she said.
Throughout the city, the normal rules of refuse disposal are suspended for two weeks while residents clean up after the storm, Tucker reiterated Monday. There is no limit on disposal of bulk items — such as damaged appliances — and property owners do not have to wait until 24 hours before their normal pickup day to put items out to the curb.
The mayor's office has struck a deal with Modern Corp. to run four additional garbage trucks through the city every day. The added expense, about $70,000 plus $31 per ton of refuse landfilled, will not be passed on to property owners in the pay-as-you-throw program, it will be absorbed by the city, Tucker said.
"We'll try to get that reimbursed (by FEMA) too, but if we can't, the city will just eat it," he said. "People have enough other problems now."
The freaky Friday rain storm dumped a record amount of water on the city. The wastewater treatment plant, where storm water and sanitary sewage are cleaned, took in 92.5 million gallons. Before Friday, 85 million gallons was the most the plant ever handled in a storm, Tucker said. Capacity is 80 million gallons and the daily average intake is 7 million gallons.
To those who suspect flooding of streets and basements was caused by deficiencies in the city's aged sewer system, Norman Allen, director of engineering and public works, says "that's just not true."
"There was more rain than the sewers are designed to handle. That's why (flooding) occurred," he said. When localized flooding started, "the first thing (public works crews) did was check storm receivers to make sure they were clear — and most of them were. That wasn't the issue, volume was."
On Friday, National Weather Service spotters reported varying amounts of rainfall around greater Lockport, between two and six inches. On Saturday it reported a city-wide average of 5 inches.
The city's cost to deal with the storm, in terms of dispatching public works employees, police officers and firefighters to respond to various crises, and repairing or replacing damaged public property, is estimated at $1.2 million initially. Among the damages to public property:
• A section of Gooding Street near the wastewater treatment plant remains closed while a seven-foot-deep sinkhole in the pavement is filled and road shoulders are replaced. The stone shoulders were washed away by rain water rushing down the escarpment.
• Paved sections of the Spring and Vine street hills, which lead to Market Street, were washed away. The streets are passable after application of temporary patching, but both will need repaving soon. Perhaps somewhat remarkably, Allen said, Market Street itself was not damaged despite being flooded.
• A water main on Willow Street east of Beattie Avenue broke and was mended Friday night. The main snapped because the ground around it was too soggy to hold it up, according to Allen.
• A newly installed water main extension from Reed Street to High Street has to be dug up and reinstalled after rain filled the trench and created air pockets around the pipe, which had been covered with stone but not soil yet when the rain started.
• Potholes formed around numerous manholes and storm receivers in streets across the city as rain washed away the asphalt at their edges. The rain washed away wood chips beneath playground equipment in several city parks as well.
Widewaters Drive-In is closed "until further notice" because of storm damage, owner Marty Oliveri confirmed Monday. The restaurant opposite Nelson Goehle Marina on Market Street was submerged in about 3 feet of water on Friday afternoon.
"I'm scared it's a complete loss," Oliveri said.
Oliveri had been working to establish an open-air market on the restaurant grounds this summer. Stone was laid to hold up to 25 semi-permanent vendor huts for farmers, artisans and small retailers, all of whom were being counted on to help Widewaters extend its seasonal operation possibly to Christmas.
"We were looking forward to growing, not rebuilding," Oliveri said, adding that if rebuilding is required, he'll find a way to make it happen.
"I know I'll be able to bring it back better," he said.
Widewaters Drive-In and the city marina are among planned stops for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, who's touring flood-stricken sites around the city Tuesday morning.
Schumer has pledged his help securing federal aid for the city and other affected areas of Niagara County, provided that Governor Cuomo first adds the county to the state's request for a federal emergency disaster declaration.
Fifteen flood-stricken counties in central New York received a disaster designation from the state last week.