Montgomery County is eligible for $3 million of additional flood recovery money from an expansion of a statewide community relief program announced Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
More than $500 million will be available across the state under a community reconstruction program open to 102 communities still rebuilding from floods since 2011. The program was initially announced in April, with communities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Schenectady, Middleburgh and Schoharie eligible for assistance, but the recent Mohawk Valley flooding prompted the governor to expand the coverage.
Eligible communities will draft comprehensive recovery plans, which could include buyouts and must take into account potential future flooding threats. Communities have up to eight months to submit plans.
The following municipalities are eligible for up to $3 million through the Community Reconstruction program:
• City of Amsterdam
• Town of Amsterdam
• Town of Esperance
• Village of Esperance
• Montgomery County
The program is billed as an alternative to top-down recovery initiatives, like recently announced funding for Mohawk Valley flooding victims, including public assistance and mitigation funding from the federal government and $16 million from the state. “Let’s fund the community’s vision, rather than asking the community to fit into the template that is established up above,” Cuomo said, suggesting that the two approaches could work in tandem.
This message was reiterated by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who was in Albany for the announcement.
“Rebuilding simply doesn’t work when it is imposed from the top down,” Donovan said, noting that President Barack Obama green-lighted federal money for this program as long as it wasn’t the federal government telling people what to do.
Following the announcement, Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush said the program would give Montgomery County residents a voice they didn’t have in flooding that hit the region in 2006. Starting at the ground level, with locals planning for the future, made him confident this funding scheme would work.
One of the benefits of local knowledge, Quackenbush said, will be dealing with the dangers posed by the Otsquago Creek, which has repeatedly ravaged Fort Plain. Echoing this sentiment, Cuomo said, “[Local communities] know what creek is going to rise up and become a monster.”
In a video promoting the initiative, Schoharie Area Long Term Executive Director Sarah Goodrich said the program will benefit from the knowledge of people who know the challenges communities and their residents are facing.
Additional funding will be available for the best plans, which Cuomo billed as an incentive to create recovery efforts that were all-encompassing.
To foster community involvement in this process, the state will be helping to set up Facebook pages devoted to sharing information about the program and allowing for people to comment.
Also Thursday, Cuomo said the state will not appeal a denial of federal individual aid for victims of recent Mohawk Valley flooding.
During a press briefing with officials from the Mohawk Valley on Thursday, the governor said numerous conversations with FEMA have left him with the impression it wouldn’t be receptive to an appeal. “They were abundantly clear in their reasoning,” he said. “I disagree with it wholeheartedly.”
The decision not to appeal was reached before he announced Wednesday that the state will provide the individual assistance being denied by the federal government. Funding the assistance will cost $16 million, with $4 million going to Montgomery County.
Cuomo added that the wait for a decision on an appeal might mean a delay in assistance for flood victims. “People need help now. They don’t need help next year,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who previously called for the state to appeal the denial, said he disagreed with the governor’s decision not to appeal.
“I’m very disappointed to learn that we are not going to appeal this FEMA decision on individual assistance,” he said.
Gibson argued that the flood response effort until now has represented a great team effort and that the next step is for the federal government to chip in with individual assistance. Noting that he has supported individual assistance for disaster victims all over the country, he said, “I expect our constituents to be treated the same way.”