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FEMA ruling shocks officials

FEMA ruling shocks officials

Midsummer storms that deluged Schenectady, Rensselaer and surrounding counties did a load of damage,

Midsummer storms that deluged Schenectady, Rensselaer and surrounding counties did a load of damage, but not enough for federal aid, according to inspectors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For the present, that has left the counties facing cleanup and repair costs on their own and possibly looking to other agencies for help.

State Emergency Management Office spokesman Dennis Michalski said the federal inspectors found about $18.2 million of damage that could be attributed to the late-July and early-August series of storms. Without damages totaling more than $23.5 million, he said the affected areas — including Schenectady and Rensselaer counties — would not be eligible for FEMA aid.

Michalski said part of the problem came with counties’ overestimating the cost of projects to restore damaged areas to their pre-storm condition. For instance, he said the city of Rensselaer’s initial damage estimate of $21.7 million was whittled down to $3.5 million after federal inspectors determined much of repair work listed was preventive and could not be considered part of the threshold.

“Much of their initial estimate was based on remediation work that would prevent this from happening again,” he said.

Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino blasted FEMA’s approach to the damage assessment as counterproductive. She said the federal government’s “one-size-fits-all approach” to disasters puts smaller communities at a disadvantage.

“It is a shock and its a disappointment too,” she said of the decision. “While $3.5 million of damage may not be a lot of money to New York City and other larger cities or municipalities, it seems to be an insurmountable amount for the city of Rensselaer and its taxpayers.”

Schenectady County officials also expressed dismay about the federal determination, just one week after they were given hope that some aid might be coming. FEMA determined the county sustained $2.8 million in damage, which was about $1 million less than emergency officials had initially reported.

Public Works Director Joe Ryan said the late July storms that dumped more than 6 inches of rain on some areas of the county had caused enough damage to strip his department of funds normally used for preventive maintenance and repaving. He said road crews were only able to repave about three miles this year instead of the 19 miles that were scheduled.

“Since the storm, the highway staff has done no highway repair aside from storm damage,” he said. “We’ll be feeling this for the next four to five years.”

Earlier this month, SEMO officials determined the late-July storms had caused roughly $15 million of damage, meaning Schenectady, Schoharie, Montgomery and six other regional counties were ineligible for aid. But the state agency decided to revisit the damage after second storm caused flooding along the Quakenderry Creek basin and in downtown Rensselaer.

Jimino was uncertain how Rensselaer residents would afford the cost of cleanup. She said the most likely outcome will be to either raise taxes or cut services, both unpalatable options for the small city of about 7,900 residents.

“It’s a relatively small city with small budget,” she said. “It’s going to be very difficult.”

Likewise, Ryan was unsure what options Schenectady County now has to lessen the burden of repairing the damaged roads and bridges. This week, he inquired about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which might help fund work in washed-out stream and creek beds.

“That would help take some of the heat off of us,” he said.

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