Irene: Insurers adding to storm woes

After hearing the same story from flood-affected business owners seeking help from insurance compani

After hearing the same story from flood-affected business owners seeking help from insurance companies, state Financial Services Department Superintendent Benjamin M. Lawsky promised to keep staff on the ground making sure insurers hold up their end of the bargain.

Meanwhile, two school districts in Schoharie County — Schoharie and Middleburgh — suspended the first day of classes for several days and the National Weather Service issued a flood watch targeting eight counties, including Schoharie and Montgomery, where residents have seen more than enough bad weather recently.

Some flood-damaged communities, such as the Priddle Road neighborhood in Esperance, were just getting cleanup help organized by Schoharie County, a week after the Schoharie Creek destroyed or badly damaged homes there.

And federal legislators were calling for quick aid for farmers who lost crops, cattle and buildings.

Chris Hubbard had his Hubie’s Pizzeria on Main Street in Middleburgh already gutted and drying out on Tuesday; the work’s been accomplished so far with the help of volunteers and Hubbard’s credit cards.

“The insurance companies are dancing around the flood-slash-hurricane issue,” said Hubbard, who, like other small businesses owners, said they intend to open their doors again. “My hope is my flood policy will give me a few dollars.”

Middleburgh Hardware was open Tuesday, drying out some of its stock. It lost roughly $200,000 to the raging Schoharie Creek.

Store owners Heather and Richard Vilegi have already received a letter from Travelers Insurance denying any help, and nobody from the insurance company ever showed up to view the damage.

Lawsky said flood victims deserve more than that from insurance companies.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we’re talking about. Maybe Travelers has an excuse to explain it. You want to deny a claim, insurance company, get your adjuster out there. You don’t just send a letter denying it,” Lawsky said.

“I am just outraged. Maybe they’re right, they shouldn’t be covered, but at the very least show the respect.”

Fighting back

Lawsky said he had staff members going door to door, with plans to review insurance policies and make sure business owners weren’t getting short-shrift.

Lawsky spoke with local officials during a tour of Middleburgh and Schoharie with Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, and state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford. He heard similar tales throughout the valley.

Local businesses need help, Middleburgh town Supervisor Dennis Richards said, as do the employees who count on the jobs they provide.

“In some way or form, we’ve got to save upstate New York,” Richards said.

M & J’s Cafe owner Mike Kossmann has already gutted his Main Street restaurant in Middleburgh and is in the drying process. He said he’ll have to wait to see what equipment is working and what will be thrown away.

Kossman said he’s had similar results with his insurance company.

“They’re just not helping. It’s all a play on words,” Kossmann said.

Further south on Main Street, Joyce Roney and Rachael Hamm wore dust masks as they worked to clean up the Middleburgh Chiropractic office building, which also houses an ARC day center. Work was under way to dry out the building — all the flooring had to be pulled up and the sheetrock and insulation about three-feet high were removed.

A quick turnaround wouldn’t be possible without volunteers, Hamm said.

“People we don’t know are showing up to help,” said Hamm, a 16-year employee of the business.

Help is on the way

Trucks were driving back and forth on Main Street in both villages Tuesday, transporting tons of debris. It’s a process that’s been going on for nearly a week in these villages, but one that just started Monday evening in the hard-hit neighborhood off Priddle Road in the town of Esperance.

Town Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III said his town doesn’t have a public works department or crews, so residents have been relying on volunteers and wondering if any of the help that’s focused on Main Street may be coming to creekside neighborhoods to the north.

“Basically we’ve had to do this alone,” he said.

Van Wormer said he’s been crossing county boundaries, responding to calls for help from people in Duanesburg in Schenectady County and Central Bridge and in the town of Schoharie.

“I’ve been yelling and fighting, now they’re starting to move, so far they haven’t delivered yet,” Van Wormer said of the county’s disaster response team.

Van Wormer said a mobile home community off Junction Road that had 10 or 11 trailers before the flood now has one. Another 15 structures off Junction Road were destroyed, and he estimates the town lost 120 homes altogether.

People in the town, Van Wormer said, are “confused, mistrusting. They’re looking for some help.”

In Burtonsville, Charleston town Supervisor Shayne Walters was trying to gather clothing and other personal items owned by residents who lost entire homes. The neighborhood off Colyer Road is empty of residents. They’re staying with friends and relatives or in apartments, Walters said.

He pointed to the shores of the Schoharie Creek, littered with debris and shredded clothing, and said he’s unsure who is going to help clean up the waterway.

A resident found a dead goat hanging in a tree this past weekend, Walters said, but it’s not the dead livestock that most concerns him. There are entire uprooted trees teetering on the edge of the creek, which slowly crept higher throughout the day Tuesday. If they are washed back into the creek, they could cause localized flooding or more damage to the canal system when they make their way into the Mohawk River, he said..

Walters said when human needs are met, there needs to be a work party put together to get all the debris thrown away and out of the creek’s path.

The root of all evil

State Sen. Seward said several issues concern him following his discussions with residents and businesses, and each of those problems revolve around money.

Residents are facing difficulties with homeowner’s insurance policies not covering damage while businesses are being told they can get a loan from FEMA, nothing more, Seward said.

“Many of our small businesses can’t take on more debt. They’re operating on slim margins as it is. That’s a gap and a problem that has to be dealt with” he said.

Seward said after late-June flooding in 2006, New York state picked up the local share of infrastructure replacement money on behalf of local governments.

The federal government pays 75 percent of the cost of repairs to infrastructure in disaster-declared areas, with the state typically covering 12.5 percent and the local governments paying the remainder. That might be more than they can afford, especially with a newly enacted cap on property tax increases, he said.

“I know it’s going to be a big number for these communities,” Seward said.

The first day of school was to be today in the Schoharie and Middleburgh school districts, but both have been put off. The Schoharie school is being used as a base of operation for military and firefighters, and the scene is similar in Middleburgh.

According to the school websites, Schoharie is slated to open instead on Sept. 12. Middleburgh is projecting a Sept. 19 re-opening, pending the outcome of restoration efforts.

The National Weather Service on Tuesday afternoon issued a flood watch until late today for Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schoharie, Schenectady and Albany counties and parts of Washington and Warren counties. Forecasters are expecting more than three inches of rain into today.

Already-saturated ground and high flows in rivers and streams will make some flooding possible, according to the weather service.

Categories: Schenectady County

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