SCHENECTADY — The federal government has awarded $1.2 million for flood mitigation studies in the historic Stockade neighborhood.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency award was announced Thursday, breaking a funding freeze imposed by FEMA in September, while the agency responded to major hurricane disasters.
The flood-proofing cash, announced by New York's U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, is for detailed engineering studies. It is the first installment of what could be more funding rounds meant to address periodic flooding problems in the low-lying residential area along the Mohawk River.
Since last year, the city has been working with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services on an application for $8.6 million in funding in 2016. The city was awaiting official word when FEMA, in late August, put a hold on funding reviews while it responded to hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in the Caribbean and Florida. (Since then, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, prompting another FEMA response.)
"We're appreciative of the senators working to free up this funding," Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
The Stockade, Schenectady's oldest neighborhood, has been struck by flooding repeatedly over the years, most recently during tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011, which caused extensive property damage. The impact of those storms sparked questions about how to flood-proof the neighborhood, where many houses are more than 200 years old.
The $1.2 million grant will pay for a first phase of study of the feasibility and effectiveness of various mitigation measures for specific properties. There are 55 to 60 structures in the floodplain. Based on the results of those studies, the city could pursue funds to carry out mitigation measures.
While it's not official, McCarthy said he believes further federal aid will follow.
"You have to complete Phase I before you move on to Phase II," he said, adding that work on the study probably won't start until spring.
The senators said the study will be a good investment, given the Stockade's long history of flooding —- from ice jams and spring runoff some years and from heavy rain events in other years.
"Studies have shown that every dollar we spend mitigating flood risk saves us four dollars in disaster recovery costs down the road," Gillibrand said in a statement. "This investment is a critical step in ensuring that the Stockade is prepared for the next storm, and that the risks and vulnerabilities to homes and public infrastructure exposed during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee are addressed."
The money will be distributed through FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant program.
Conceivably, a study could recommend relocating or elevating some houses. Earlier this year, in the first project of its kind, a house at 4 Washington St. was raised and relocated, a $300,000 project that was primarily funded by the New York Rising program.
A separate city project is planned to flood-harden a sewage pumping station adjoining Riverside Park. The cost of that $7.5 million project is being split between the NY Rising program and the city.
McCarthy noted that a separate state-funded Mohawk River watershed study is looking at whether the Vischer Ferry Dam, about 7 miles downstream, contributes to upstream flooding.
"Between the two [studies], we're going to have comprehensive results going forward," he said.