Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 18, 2013

State to help flood victims

By Joyce M. Miles joyce.miles@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — It appears private property owners will get some disaster aid after all, from New York State rather than the federal government.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced the state will provide $16 million to homeowners, business operators and farmers in five flood-stricken upstate counties that were declared disaster areas after late June rains but were denied federal aid.

Niagara County is to receive $2 million, according to Cuomo. Herkimer and Montgomery counties will get $4 million each and Madison and Oneida counties $3 million each.

“It’s a lot of money, but it’s your neighbors saying, ‘We’re here to help you,’” Cuomo said at a Herkimer County news conference. “When one person has a problem, everyone is there, one for the other.”

Cuomo said aid to individuals within the counties will consist of grants and loans equal to what they would have received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had it not rejected private loss claims. As of last week FEMA had agreed to reimburse only municipalities for their flooding-related property losses and cleanup costs.

While 12 counties were identified by Cuomo, and later FEMA, as disaster areas, state money is going to the five “hardest hit” counties only at this point, Cuomo said; the others may be considered for state funding in the future, an aide said.

The funding announcement comes as state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reported state revenues were $321 million over projections as of the end of June. The state budget totals more than $135 billion.

Flooding in Niagara County on June 28 was limited mostly to the City of Lockport, where hundreds of property owners needed basement pumpouts after five inches of rain fell in a few hours and strained the city’s sanitary-stormwater sewer system past capacity.

Mayor Michael Tucker was headed to Albany late Wednesday, to attend a conference today in the state capital regarding aid for private property owners. In a telephone interview, he said he got an invitation to the conference from Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development, who suggested the trip would be worth his time.

Tucker said he expects to learn the particulars of the aid — who exactly is eligible for it, and how the claims process will work — at the conference.

“I’m encouraged by what I heard today, I’m just not sure what it all means yet,” he said. “By (tonight) I should know a lot more.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Wednesday that he’s continuing to urge the state to appeal FEMA’s decision not to provide assistance to private property owners. He calls that decision wrongheaded.

“I’m very glad the state is stepping in as far as homeowners are concerned,” Schumer said. His office is contacting local officials to double check reports of “significant damage” to homes and businesses which could reverse FEMA’s decision, he added. But he said only the state can appeal.

Cuomo said he felt FEMA was wrong in its decision but he hasn’t appealed.

Across upstate, more than 500 homes were damaged to some degree and dozens were destroyed, while at least 150 businesses have major or minor damage after recent flooding events, according to Cuomo. Homeowners are eligible for up to $31,900 in grants and loans, while small business owners and farmers are eligible for up to $50,000 in aid.

The aid will cover damage to roofs, windows, doors, siding, flooring, drywall, insulation, foundations, well and septic systems, electric systems, fuel tanks, heating and water systems, and appliances, and to address environmental hazards.

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Unaware of Cuomo’s announcement, members of the Common Council on Wednesday briefly debated the issue of whether to continue encouraging homeowners to file flood damage-related notices of claim against the city. Mayor Tucker encouraged the filings originally to compile a list of affected properties in the event FEMA would consider aid for them, and as of Tuesday, 55 notices had been received by the city clerk.

It’s known that around 600 basements were pumped out by firefighting crews on the day of the storm.

To 4th Ward Alderman Patrick Schrader’s suggestion that officials should encourage more filings, to keep the aid list going, City Attorney John Ottaviano fairly shouted a terse “No!”

Legally, notices of claim are an assertion by property owners that the city is somehow responsible for their property losses. By law, they must be turned over to the city’s liability insurer for review and a decision whether payouts are in order.

Most flood-related claims will not be paid, Ottaviano said. The storm that hit the city on June 28 is classifed as a 100-year storm, “an act of God (for which) the city is not liable,” he said.

Encouraging property owners to file notices of claim just to get a list going for disaster aid purposes could end up working against the city, Ottaviano said. Its annual premium is based in part on the number of notices filed against it, not just the number of claims paid out.

“Hindsight being 20/20, I wish we had just started a separate list,” he said. “The amount of claims (filed this year) most likely will have an impact on our premium going forward.”

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Also relating to storm recovery, Council President Anne McCaffrey reiterated that the amnesty on normal rules of refuse disposal, including limits on bulk item disposal, ended last Friday. Anyone who continued putting bulk items out to the curb this week should take them back from the curb, she said, because they’re not being picked up anymore.

The next bulk/large item pickup week for residents is Aug. 5-9. Per the normal rules, one large item can go free of charge on the homeowner’s regularly scheduled pickup day. Additional large items must bear a special tag, available from the city clerk’s office for $10 per item.

Officials are aware of a few properties where bulk items set out during the amnesty period were not picked up last week. The addresses were noted and amnesty terms are being honored, at those addresses only, City Clerk Richelle Pasceri said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.