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Stockade FEMA mitigation funding on hold

Stockade FEMA mitigation funding on hold

Comes in wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma
Stockade FEMA mitigation funding on hold
Last week, a house at 4 Washington St. in the Stockade was lifted onto a new, higher foundation.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story included incorrect information about the Anker house flood mitigation project was funded. The state's NY Rising program is paying most of the cost to relocate the house to reduce its flood risk.

SCHENECTADY — A city application for $8.6 million in federal funds to mitigate flood risks in the historic Stockade neighborhood is on hold while the Federal Emergency Management Agency deals with the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Any delay, however, postpones the day owners of 55 to 60 Stockade structures in the Mohawk River floodplain can qualify for federal help to raise their properties above the floodplain or otherwise reduce their flood risk.

"It can compromise owners who have already experienced one or two floods in previous decades," said Frank Gilmore, a Schenectady architect who lives on the edge of the Stockade floodplain and who designed a recent house-raising project for a client. "It really, in part, depends on how resolute they are or how resigned to the unpredictability of the weather."

In a guidance document sent to state emergency management offices on Aug. 28, FEMA said that because of funding limitations, it is putting priority on hurricane responses over long-term projects like paying for flood mitigation improvements in flood-prone areas.

"Funding is not being eliminated for projects in these categories, but merely delayed until additional appropriations are available," the document states. "Adhering to these guidelines is critical to ensure that FEMA is able to continue ongoing and future response and recovery efforts."

The city applied for the mitigation funding in 2016 and has been waiting for an answer ever since, said Christine Primiano, the city's principal planner.

While the $8.6 million figure was developed in consultation with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Primiano said, it isn't expected to be enough to mitigate all the risks in the Stockade, which last experienced major flooding in 2011.

Recently, Primiano said she confirmed the delay in the application process with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, which administers the FEMA grant program.

"They said, 'Yes, everything is on hold right now,'" Primiano said. "I wasn't given any idea of timelines or anything like that."

The city's decision to pursue flood mitigation help dates back to tropical storms Irene and Lee in August 2011, which caused extensive flooding in the Stockade, Schenectady's oldest neighborhood, where some of the buildings date to the 1700s.

City officials met with state and federal officials this summer and were told FEMA would consider funding the less-expensive but necessary engineering study separately from actual mitigation measures, like raising vulnerable houses.

If it were funded, Primiano said the study would include an analysis of each property in the flood zone — including an evaluation of the stability of the ground around the homes — and offer a flood-mitigation proposal for each property.

"The significance (of any delay) would be if we have another major flood, and we would have had missed opportunities for mitigation measures," Primiano said.

Last week, a house at 4 Washington St. was lifted onto a new, higher foundation in response to having been flooded in 1996 and again in 2011 — but that work was privately funded, and the municipal review process before the move was allowed was lengthy, with a number of concerns expressed about how the change would effect the historic neighborhood, where most of the houses are packed tightly together.

The state's NY Rising program is paying most of the $300,000 cost to raise and relocate the house.

If nothing is done and flooding continues into the future, Gilmore said federal flood insurance premiums will rise significantly. While some properties need to be raised only 2 or 3 feet to be protected, Gilmore said the costs of a major lift and relocation are much, much higher and are probably unaffordable for most people, unless they receive federal assistance.

"Moving up 2 or 3 feet is not a lot of money; it's when you do something dramatic; then the huge money comes it, and that could only be done with federal money," Gilmore said.

The city a few weeks ago released design guidelines for flood mitigation work on properties in the historic district. Primiano said any projects that receive federal funding would need to go through the city planning and historic review process, as the Anker project did.

"We're hopeful that the guidelines will be very encouraging," said Gilmore, who was on the committee that oversaw development of the guidelines.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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