Schoharie County communities still recovering from tropical storms Irene and Lee have eight months to craft a flood recovery and resiliency plan to win up to $12 million in available federal funds.
The key to winning the money, though, is to come up with ideas that will help prevent devastating flood damage in the future, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said to about 50 local officials in Cobleskill on Tuesday. Inside SUNY Cobleskill’s Frisbie Hall, he explained how the storm recovery initiative launched in July will work for the Schoharie County community.
“We agree that there has been a pattern of extreme weather,” said Cuomo. “We are having 100-year storms every three years now. I’ve been governor less than three years, and we have already had Irene, Lee and Sandy. So once you accept the premise that extreme weather is here, then you say, ‘We should plan and prepare for it.’ ”
Tuesday was the first time Cuomo has visited the Capital Region to discuss the initiative, known as the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program. The program will assist 102 severely damaged communities to develop and implement rebuilding plans that take into account long-term hazard mitigation measures and better prepare for future extreme weather.
Capital Region and Mohawk Valley communities eligible for the program include Waterford, Rotterdam, Schenectady, the city and town of Amsterdam, and the town of Florida in Montgomery County.
In Schoharie County, the $12 million pot will be split among Middleburgh, Schoharie and the village and town of Esperance, so each has $3 million available. These figures were determined based on FEMA assessed damage levels and applications for new infrastructure and other mitigation. Local committees in affected areas have eight months to submit applications to the state for approval.
“We have some communities talking about a housing reconstruction program or a housing buyout program,” said Cuomo. “In some communities, people are just saying, ‘I want to sell the house. We’ve been through this three times, four times, five times.’ We have people talking about Main Street repairs as an economic development boost. We have communities talking about stream resiliency, where we go in and clean out the streams and make more capacity.”
The Schoharie County committee already met for the first time two weeks ago, said Sarah Goodrich, executive director of Schoharie Area Long Term. Her group has coordinated recovery efforts in the Schoharie Valley since Irene and estimates that after more than two years, about 70 percent of its work is done. Goodrich will serve as co-chair of the local NY Rising committee, alongside Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Georgia Van Dyke.
“We are going to be looking at a whole range of topics,” said Goodrich. “We hope to develop some subcommittees that can come back to the main committee with basic recommendations and plans for things like business development and tourism and water systems and hazard mitigation. Right now, we are just at the brainstorming level.”
The rest of the committee will be made up of officials with experience in labor, hazard mitigation, zoning, economic development, transportation, public works and emergency management, said Van Dyke.
The committee will meet again Thursday at 7 p.m. at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Middleburgh.
“The goal of this funding is to learn from what happened so we don’t go through it again,” said Cuomo. “And that’s not a government lesson or a storm lesson, that’s a life lesson. Life says things are going to happen that are going to come along and knock you on your rear end when you least expect, and the question is how are you going to respond? Do you get up? Do you learn from it, and are you the better for it? I believe we’ll do this right, that we’ll look back at Irene and Lee and say, ‘You know, it was a terrible thing to go through, but you know what? We’re better for it.’ ”
Even though the floods’ impact is still felt every day, Middleburgh town Supervisor James Buzon agreed there is a silver lining.
“Despite the incredible challenges of these recent floods and storms, they have spurred a grass-roots movement to strengthen our communities for the future,” he said. “By targeting the factors that put localities at risk from the ground up, we can ensure that we are stronger and better prepared for the next big storm that comes along.”