Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Local News

July 10, 2013

Flood relief off the table for homeowners

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — It appears unlikely that homeowners will qualify for federal disaster aid after the recent rain storm that caused flash flooding around the city.

The city itself may not be able to access disaster aid either, Mayor Michael Tucker said Wednesday after meeting with state and federal officials who toured water-damaged properties.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency won't approve a natural disaster declaration for New York State unless a weather event produces at least $26 million of property damage statewide, and despite the governor's office having issued an emergency declaration for 15 counties stricken by flood events in late June, F.E.M.A. reportedly isn't finding that much damage.

By department heads' first estimates, the city faces a $1.2 million tab for storm response and recovery costs, including repair of equipment that broke down at the wastewater treatment plant.

Private property losses are estimated at $3 million apiece in the residential and commercial classes. Flood damage to residential properties is mostly confined to basements, which F.E.M.A. doesn't consider to be primary living space and therefore won't aid, an agency official reiterated to Tucker. Businesses are not eligible for aid.

Emergency responders pumped out an estimated 600 basements on June 28, after heavy rainfall — about 5 inches in three hours — strained the city's combined sanitary-stormwater sewer system beyond capacity. All the water couldn't be taken into the system at once, so it pooled, filling streets and yards, seeping into basements and causing sanitary sewer backups.

If F.E.M.A. does not approve a disaster declaration for the state — which Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly conceded on Tuesday doesn't seem likely — the only government assistance for property owners will be low-interest loans from the state Small Business Administration, Tucker said.

"We've been trying hard the last two weeks, exhausting every avenue to make sure residents are taken care of," he said. "It just doesn't look promising."

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