State and local officials gathered in Schoharie on Friday to bestow $183,000 in post-flood rebuilding grants upon business owners who saw years of work washed away when Tropical Storm Irene shellacked the Schoharie Valley in August.
The announcement follows a laborious process started in September when the state announced plans to create the $15 million Agriculture and Community Relief Fund using federal money.
The dozen business owners receiving grants of up to $30,000 Friday are people who already spent money putting their buildings back together — they had no intention of closing up despite the destruction they faced, county Planning Director Alicia Terry said.
“These are the people committed to rebuilding,” she said.
The announcement is just the first in what will be a series — the county has $1 million available from the fund, half to cover structural repairs and the other half for machinery and equipment. But those receiving grants Friday were the first to clear the application hurdles, and the money they received is more like a refund of some of what they spent.
They are people like Janet and Richard Putnam, owners of Palmer and Shaylor Funeral Home, which sits alongside the Schoharie Creek in Middleburgh. The Putnams lost two houses in the village — they were demolished and are empty lots now — but the funeral home is under reconstruction and should be back in operation next month.
“It helps,” Janet Putnam said following a brief ceremony.
Patty White owns an office building in Middleburgh. One office is rebuilt and being offered for rent, while the other awaits completion.
“I’m grateful,” she said of the assistance.
“This is an important day for Schoharie County because it’s showing the world we’re coming back and we’re coming back stronger,” said Sarah Blood, the county’s economic development marketing coordinator.
State Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, said the grants are a small part of major work yet to be done. Some business owners weren’t aware of the different forms of assistance, and Lopez said he’s putting pressure on the state to consider extending deadlines to make sure those who could benefit can take full advantage.
“Many still don’t realize what’s available to them,” he said.
The work requires more than just getting the lights back on at businesses. Lopez said officials need to make sure these firms can continue operating.
“When the lights come on, we want them to stay on,” he said.
Terry said it’s clear more help will be needed. Her office calculates there’s roughly $83 million in “unmet need” in Schoharie County that includes farm and business losses, public infrastructure repairs, stream work and residential rebuilding.
“There’s a lot more work to do, and we’re going to be pushing to get that done,” county Board of Supervisors Chairman Harold Vroman said.