President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared the devastation brought this year by Lake Ontario flooding a major disaster. With the declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will work with New York State to help provide aid to municipalities that have been affected by the flooding. 

A release announcing the decision indicated that federal funding is available to the state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain private non-profit organizations, on a cost-sharing basis, for emergency work and repair or replacement of facilities damaged by flooding in Jefferson, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne counties. The dollar amount of damage done in the listed counties met a FEMA threshold.

U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, said the declaration is warranted based on the scope of devastation that the flooding brought in local communities. 

"The devastation that occurred on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, it was catastrophic. These are homeowners with some of the largest and most expensive homes, hence there is a threat to the tax base of the counties," Collins told the Union-Sun & Journal in a telephone interview Tuesday evening. "Entire businesses, yacht clubs totally in the past hundred years have never seen anything like this devastation. The counties were impacted and FEMA exists for unusual mother nature type of catastrophes."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in counties experiencing flooding from Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River on May 2. 

Collins said it was inevitable that FEMA would get involved with helping flood-stricken communities, but that other more recent natural disasters, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, used up a lot of the agency's manpower and resources. 

"We always expected it. It was just a formality and a timing issue," Collins said. "The $27 million threshold for New York state was met. No one for a second thought the damage was going to be less than that."

Don Caetano, a FEMA spokesperson, said the next step in the claims process is establishment of a "joint sealed office" between the federal government and New York state. Caetano noted that, at the moment, FEMA aid is for affected public entities — municipalities and communities — only. That could change by the time an "end declaration" is worked out by the U.S. and state governments, he added.

Both Collins and Caetano noted that Cuomo has already asked for aid to be extended to individuals. Collins said small businesses may be eligible for loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

Collins believes the next step in addressing the flooding problem is appointment of new American commissioners to the International Joint Commission; he said three individuals, whose names he declined to disclose, have been recommended but there is no set date for announcing the appointments because the Trump Administration is focused on getting crucial positions appointed first. Collins noted that the IJC nominees have already been vetted and their references contacted by the FBI.

"We're caught up, unfortunately, with Sen. (Chuck) Schumer slow-walking all the Senate confirmations," Collins said. "Senator Schumer is just creating a backlog that is unprecedented in the Senate."

Lake Ontario flood aid will come from FEMA's Public Assistance Program, which with a balance of $4.7 billion is its largest grant program. 

Trending Video

Recommended for you