Anyone who has seen the devastation caused by the floods of recent years in Schoharie County should know that important structures that are rebuilt should be moved to higher ground. But that’s not the way it seems to be working, thanks to some questionable decisions by FEMA.
FEMA continues to take the position that the public safety building, which houses essential communications equipment as well as county jail prisoners, should be rebuilt where it was, in the Schoharie Creek’s flood zone.
The agency cites its policy of not building new on higher ground if it would cost less than half to rebuild, as it would in this case. But adding in flood protection measures would bring the cost to well over half. And last week a letter from the state Department of Environmental Conservation surfaced that said it’s against state policy to put a prison in a flood plain. Perhaps that will persuade FEMA to pay for a new public safety building at a safer location.
But the county’s case isn’t helped by the fact that FEMA, after initially saying no to a new Blenheim covered bridge, then reconsidering and saying it would pay $1.8 million for an alternative (the historic bridge was no longer being used for transportation but as a community gathering space), has now said it will pay for architectural and engineering work for a replica. Not only a replica, but a replica that would cost an estimated $8.7 million to build (FEMA hasn’t committed to that yet) — and be in the same flood-prone location the old one was.
We’re tempted to say easy come, easy go, but it’s more responsible to say that somebody should say no. A bridge alternative, if it is built, like the public safety building, should be on higher ground.