A crowd of politicians in freshly ironed formal wear filed through the narrow front door of Nicole Devoe’s Fort Plain home Monday morning.
The place wasn’t really ready for company. The whole main level was gutted, the old wooden floor smeared with dried mud and bouncing on unstable support beams. Like so many other homes in Fort Plain, it was inundated in June when the Otsquago Creek overflowed its banks and gushed into the village.
That distinctive river mud smell still lingers, but the honored guest, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, didn’t seem to mind.
“We’re going to get you back in this house by Christmas,” he said, shaking Devoe’s hand.
DiNapoli visited the region Monday morning, along with an entourage of local politicians and their assistants. He and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, toured Fort Plain businesses in various states of flood damage and repair along with State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, who organized the trip.
Their last stop was Devoe’s house at 94 Main St.
“It’s been murder,” she said. “I lived here for 19 years.”
With her home in ruins after the flood, she had to move into a small trailer on the back of her property. She lived there for nearly five months while contractors and volunteers shoveled mud and gutted her home.
DiNapoli said she’ll be able to move back in before the holidays, thanks in part to a crew of volunteers from his office slated to insulate and Sheetrock the place Saturday. The comptroller himself won’t be helping with Devoe’s house, but said a dozen staff members in his office have volunteered.
Jeff Stark, president of the Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council, will be bringing more than a dozen union construction workers to volunteer Saturday — making sure things get done right.
“You’d be surprised,” Stark said. “A lot of their office workers are pretty good on a construction site. We rebuilt nine homes together in Schoharie County after Irene.”
Devoe was quiet but seemed grateful. She cried several times at the prospect of spending the holidays in a restored home.
In the grand scheme of things, a few dozen volunteers working on a single home might not do a huge amount for the villagewide recovery, but Tkaczyk said the idea is to bring greater awareness to the village’s continuing plight.
According to American Red Cross response manager and county Long-Term Recovery Committee Chairman Michael Raphael, there are still more than 40 homes in various stages of disrepair. Nine are ready for a buyout, he said, 20 have simply been abandoned and 16 more are on the Long-Term Recovery Committee’s project list.
In the months after a natural disaster, Tkaczyk said, people tend to forget about lingering damages. She said bringing a high-level elected official to the area is a way to remind people of continued need. She plans to work there Saturday herself.
“I’ve always wanted a hard hat,” she said. “Stark is going to give me one.”
Earlier Monday, DiNapoli also spoke at a Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast event at the Johnstown Holiday Inn. He covered a range of state topics before settling on local issues. The main problem facing the region, he said, is job growth.
“At a statewide level,” he said, “we’ve gained back more jobs than we lost during the Great Recession. But we have a big state and it’s not the same everywhere.”
While some boroughs of New York City experienced 200 percent job growth over the past few years, DiNapoli said, Fulton and Montgomery counties’ job figures never really recovered from the recession.
Despite the glum numbers, he said, the region’s proximity to the Thruway should give people hope for the future.
Chamber President Mark Kilmer elaborated, saying nanotechnology development in Utica and the Hudson Valley could lead to spillover industry in Fulton and Montgomery counties.
“I see this area on the verge of something good,” Kilmer said.
DiNapoli also spoke briefly on his office’s audit of Montgomery County’s finances. His staff recently took issue with the county’s routine use of savings to balance its budgets. The official report said the county isn’t yet financially stressed, but will be if fund balance practices aren’t corrected.
“It’s a very common problem among municipalities right now,” he said. “We’re always available to help.”