Capital Region communities still rebuilding from tropical storms Irene and Lee will be eligible for millions of dollars if they can identify projects the federal government will fund.
Community Reconstruction Zones for Montgomery, Schenectady, Schoharie and Saratoga counties, which are each eligible for around $3 million in federal grants, were announced Friday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Each community will convene a committee of elected representatives, local residents and business leaders that will spend eight months drafting a plan that must be approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The state will initiate this planning process in June and will provide continuous assistance to local committees as they work on a plan.
“The Community Reconstruction Zone program we are launching today will empower localities to put together a team of local officials, residents and leaders who know their communities best to develop rebuilding plans that will guide the local recovery process,” Cuomo said in a statement. “With the state’s assistance, these communities will identify their needs and risks, as well as identify ways to strengthen their resiliency for the future. Under this plan, New York is not just doing reconstruction work — we are building back better and smarter than before.”
Among other criteria, plans must assess vulnerable assets and regions, devise a means for protecting at-risk locations, incorporate regional strategies, and have some economic benefit.
Specific communities are targeted in each county for the funding. Middleburgh, Esperance and Schoharie are areas highlighted in Schoharie County, which made sense to Schoharie County flood recovery coordinator Bill Cherry, himself a flood victim, who said those regions were probably the worst-hit in the country.
He said the community approach was exciting and liked the focus on economic development in the plans.
In Montgomery County, the focus is on Amsterdam and Florida, in Saratoga County it is Waterford and in Schenectady County it is Schenectady and Rotterdam.
The initiative is unlikely to generate money until the spring of 2014 at the earliest, but that didn’t bother Cherry. “We’re going to be at this for the next five years … so that fits in well,” he said.
Talking about the long-term nature of this program, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, stressed that this project is an investment for the future.
“These investments represent longer-term comprehensive planning, as opposed to immediate disaster relief, and take longer to be made available,” Tonko said. “But it is exactly the type of planning I have long advocated for through my office-led Mighty Waters Task Force, and look forward to rebuilding our neighborhoods better and stronger than before.”
It is up to HUD to approve the funding of projects, which potentially might not be completely approved. About 75 percent of the almost $400 million for this effort is scheduled for downstate communities.
Also announced Friday was $1.7 billion of HUD money, which will mostly go to downstate homeowners. It is not clear how much of this money will go to the Capital Region, despite the fact that a news release from Cuomo stressed that funds will be used for Irene and Lee victims.
Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, said his office will go through the committed funds to identify anything that could help people in the Capital Region.
“We’re trying to figure out the nature of the resources,” he said. “Our office will be following up with the governor’s office.”
Stephanie Valle, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, said it was essential for upstate communities not to be forgotten in the effort to rebuild downstate after Sandy. She said the disaster needs from Irene and Lee that have not been funded previously could be covered under the $1.7 billion pot of funds.
“This expansion to Irene and Lee projects was a critical part of the Sandy aid package, which Congressman Gibson worked with Governor Cuomo’s office to ensure was included, and has the potential to benefit our local area,” Valle said.
A statement from Tonko also indicated that the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys would receive help from these funds, which should be made available in the near future.
Included in the $1.7 billion is $663 million for single-family housing, $124 million for multi-family housing and $415 million in efforts to bring back businesses.