The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied New York state’s request for a disaster declaration because the $28 million in costs incurred by state and local governments in responding to the Dec. 11 ice storm wasn’t judged high enough to merit federal aid.
Gov. David A. Paterson said the denial will be appealed to FEMA’s leadership.
The state was told by FEMA that the scope of the disaster was small enough to be handled with state resources, so the federal agency won’t come up with $21 million in disaster aid.
“The denial of a major disaster declaration will deprive the state of critical funding for those New York communities affected by the storm,” Paterson said in a statement Wednesday.
Under federal law, a disaster declaration “shall be based on a finding that a disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments.” The law does not set a minimum dollar figure for making a request.
The ice storm caused an estimated $28 million in damages across 16 counties, with the Capital Region hit hard, according to figures put together by the state. As many as 300,000 utility customers were without power at some point during the storm, and some were without power for more than a week.
Saratoga County sustained what county Emergency Services Director Paul Lent estimated was $6.4 million in costs for the county and its communities. The estimate includes the cost of operating shelters, clearing roads and removing fallen limbs and other debris.
“Debris removal will be going on for a long period of time,” Lent said. “We were one of the higher counties relative to damages.”
A disaster declaration would have qualified the state and affected counties for up to 75 percent reimbursement, or about $21 million.
However, the state will still have $5 million in federal aid coming, based on President Bush’s declaration of an emergency the week after the storm.
The disaster declaration request had the backing of the state’s congressional delegation, including U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Schumer, Clinton and five members of Congress including local representatives Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Hudson, wrote a letter Wednesday objecting to the denial.
“We therefore request a detailed and complete explanation for FEMA’s unjustified dismissal of New York’s application for a major disaster declaration despite the state’s having met the statutory requirements for such a declaration,” they wrote to FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison.
Paterson said the costs of storm response are more than state and local governments should bear. The estimate was that the state spent $3 million and local governments spent about $25 million.
“The more than $28 million in public costs associated with this storm and borne by taxpayers is staggering,” Paterson said. “While New Yorkers responded heroically during this storm, they cannot fully recover without the necessary federal assistance.”
The affected counties included Chenango, Columbia, Delaware, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster and Washington.