The city of Schenectady will submit an application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in hopes of landing up to $1 million in federal funds to deal with the Stockade’s flooding woes.
Residents of the historic neighborhood have struggled in the nearly four years since Tropical Storms Irene and Lee over what to do about rising flood insurance, an increasingly difficult real estate market and the costs associated with flood mitigation. One homeowner currently has a request before the city’s Historic District Commission to raise her historic home entirely out of the 100-year floodplain — a move some are worried will harm the historic integrity of the district.
On Monday, Mayor Gary McCarthy said his office is working to submit an application by the end of September that would fund not only a comprehensive study of the issues facing the neighborhood, but also the cost to implement any recommendations that come out of the study.
“Everybody tells me this is our best source of funds,” he said. “So that’s the direction I’m telling the staff to go in. We’ve got six weeks or so to get this application in.”
The funds would come from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which is designed to help communities take action to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards like flooding.
One other funding source was identified last week — the state Historic Preservation Office offers certified local government grants ranging from $2,000 to $60,000 for just such projects. That would be enough to fund a study, but wouldn’t stretch very far when it comes to actually implementing mitigation projects. Nevertheless, the state confirmed last week that an application from Schenectady for this grant funding would be given high priority because it could serve as a benchmark study for other historic districts in the state dealing with the same thing.
McCarthy said he’s not ruling that program or any others out when it comes to funding a study.
“If there’s money out there, I’ll apply,” he said. “If we can get a study this other way, it doesn’t have to be done so it’s mutually exclusive. We would look to work with other organizations — SHPO may have some ideas or criteria they would want looked at as part of the study, or even one of the adjacent communities that’s dealing with this.”
That’s one of the remaining questions about a flood mitigation study — whether or not to narrow its scope to the unique issues facing the Stockade Historic District or to broaden it to include other flood-prone communities along the Mohawk River like Scotia, Rotterdam Junction and even the city’s East Front Street neighborhood. McCarthy said it will depend, in part, on the funds they can get.
The Stockade is unique, because elevating homes out of the floodplain or mitigating them against future floods could affect the historic integrity of the city’s oldest neighborhood and the state’s first historic district. Residents are worried about the so-called “sawtooth effect” that raising some homes and not others could have — where one or several houses are jacked up higher than others along certain streets.
The Stockade Association has been asking the city for months about lining up funding for a comprehensive study on the issue, and was relieved Monday to hear that the city has pinpointed a source.
“We would be encouraged for (McCarthy) to do anything, as long as he allows us to have some input,” said Association President Carol DeLaMarter. “We made a good faith effort, we have gone to great lengths as a community to educate ourselves as much as we can on this issue, so we hope they would provide us an opportunity to have some input in the discussions.”
The Schenectady Heritage Foundation has also helped educate the community on the topic. Last week, it hosted New Jersey historic preservation consultant Mary Delaney and SHPO’s Julian Adams at a special meeting of the foundation that was attended by dozens of residents, as well as members of the city’s Historic District Commission. They gave presentations on the topics of flood mitigation methods, the National Flood Insurance Program and the questions a comprehensive study could answer.
The chair of the foundation, Gloria Kishton, said Monday she was relieved to hear the city would be pursuing funding for a study, but that it was unfortunate it took nearly four years after the devastating floods of 2011 to do so.
“We have this problem now, because our historic district commission has to respond somehow to a homeowner who wants to raise her home, and they could have benefited and would have made a much more intelligent decision had they had all this information already,” she said. “So it’s unfortunate that all of this has lagged, yet the commission is faced with this dilemma now.”