Cuomo Seeks FEMA Help for Lake Ontario Flooding

Governor signs relief bill providing grants for affected homeowners

Tom Puckett
July 06, 2017 - 3:27 pm
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Wilson, NY (WBEN) Governor Cuomo called on President Trump for federal help after high water levels along Lake Ontario devastated homes and businesses this year.

"It's undeniable the main cause has been the amount of rainfall, but it's more complicated than that and it has something to do with how the situation was regulated," says Cuomo.

Cuomo is applying to the federal government for relief through FEMA. "I worked with it many times, but in a situation like this where you meet a certain financial threshold, I think we're going to meet it, the federal government comes in to reimburse. We're going to pursue that aggressively because this is a federal responsibility," believes Cuomo. He's also calling on president Trump to replace the International Joint Commission appointees with people who know a bit about the Great Lakes, and adds Trump can do that immediately. He says one slot is vacant, another is filled by a person from Montana.

Cuomo signed a $55 million relief package, which will reimburse residents and small businesses affected by damage, up to $50,000. Municipalities will receive a $1 million limit, except for those who wish to do mitigation, in which case the limit is half of that.

Cuomo adds he is going to keep a watch on this, not believing this will be a once in 100 years event.

Transcript of Gov. Cuomo's comments in Wilson


Thank you, thank you very much. It’s my pleasure to be back in Niagara County. What a beautiful day. First, to Howard Zemsky, who is no stranger to the people in Western New York, he is from western New York, he did all the economic development projects for us in western New York. He was so good we then recruited him to come and do the economic development projects all across the state.  

I’ve done many events with Howard. You wouldn’t know it from his presentation today, but he has a good sense of humor.  Usually. And I’ve seen all sorts of reactions, but I’ve never seen the reaction I saw today. The man got up, started to speak, and the swans fled.  I’ve never seen that response before.  Must say something, Howard.  But he has done a phenomenal job at what he’s done.  Let’s give a round of applause to Howard Zemsky.  

To all the dignitaries who are here, our guests, our neighbors, thank you very much for taking the time to come out.  To the state officials who are working, the commissioners who are working, but especially my colleagues in the legislature who came back for an extraordinary session to do additional business that wasn’t done during the regular legislative session.  And that’s always difficult and it’s hard to do.  It’s sort of after school, after you graduate school you get a call and they say you have to come back for another 2 days, you’re not really in that mood.  That’s what an extraordinary session is.  But the legislature came back for an extraordinary session and they did great work and one of the things they did is passing the relief package for Lake Ontario that were going to talk about today. So I’m going to ask Senator Ortt, Assemblymember Norris, and Assemblymember Morinello to stand up pleaser and let’s give them a round of applause.  

Well, as you heard from Howard, and as everybody knows, Mother Nature has gotten offended by something, someone did along the way, but we have a pattern of extreme weather that is just undeniable now. We have weather circumstances in this state that we never had before. Seven feet of snow in Buffalo. Now, we get snow in Buffalo, but we don’t get seven feet of snow. We had Superstorm Sandy, we had floods, hurricanes, et cetera. And now we have record breaking heights at Lake Ontario.

 It’s undeniable that one of the causes or the main cause has been the amount of rainfall. I believe it’s more complicated than that and I also believe it gets into how this situation was regulated, but there’s no doubt that what accelerated the situation was the amount of rainfall, and now we have Lake Ontario at the highest levels ever.  Not for a day or two, but now for months and now into the summer season, into the tourism season, into the business season. We have no way of reducing the amount of water in the lake given the size, we understand that’s a herculean task, and that’s what the IJC is supposed to be doing.  

But we do have the responsibility of dealing with the fallout.  And the first step is handling the emergency nature of it. And unfortunately we’ve gotten too good at handling these emergencies. As I mentioned, the number of extreme weather circumstances we have. Think about this: my father was governor for 12 years. I’ve been governor for roughly half that amount of time. I’ve had about twice as many natural disasters in half the time that my father had when he was governor. So, the frequency is up, and the legislature has been very good at making sure the sophistication of our emergency response has gotten much, much better in terms of equipment, personnel et cetera. So, as you heard from Howard, step one was the emergency response, and we were there with deployments of boats, pumps, and personnel. The main workforce for the state, the National Guard, and they have done an amazing job. One million sandbags. Niagara County, alone, 60,000 sandbags.

There is no art form to a sandbag. You do 60,000 sandbags, your back hurts, I can promise you that. And if it wasn’t for the National Guard, the damage we have faced would have been much, much worse. Let’s give the National Guard a round of applause and General Center whose here today.

The second step is we’re applying to the federal government for financial assistance through what’s called FEMA. Federal Emergency Management Agency. There was a federal program, I was in the federal government, I worked with it many times. But in a situation like this where you reach a threshold amount in damage, which I believe we’re going to meet, the federal government has a program to come back and reimburse. And we’re going to pursue that aggressively because I believe this is a federal responsibility. We pay federal taxes and they should pay. As I mentioned, I believe the causes and the handling of the height of the lake is something that should be studied. And we should learn from so this doesn’t happen again.

There’s a group called the IJC which does the regulation of the releases of water. The state doesn’t have any appointees on that, that’s federal. But there are three federal appointees, one is vacant, one is from the great state of Montana and Montana is a beautiful state. But what you know about the Great Lakes living in Montana, I’m not exactly sure. I know they go far west, but I don’t think they reach Montana. So today were calling on President Trump to replace those appointees on the IJC, put appointees who know what they’re talking about, who know the Great Lakes, and he can do that immediately.

I also want to reinforce the no wake zone that we put into effect. Five miles per hour within the 600 feet of the shoreline. I know that’s a burden for boaters. I’m a boater. But look at the damage you can do. You’re talking about docks that are already under water. You’re talking about homes that are getting flooded. And every wave literally does additional damage. So we’re coordinating with local law enforcement, but please show consideration. Follow that rule, five miles per hour within 600 miles of the shoreline. And then as I mentioned before, the state passed a new program authorized up to 55 million dollars to reimburse people who have been damaged. Home owners, businesses, farms and local governments. $50,000, up to $50,000 to reimburse a home owner for damage. Up to $50,000 to reimburse a small business, business with up to 100 employees for damage that they had. $1 million limit for municipalities. $500,000 for municipalities that want to do mitigation.

You know they will say that well this is one in one hundred years. This has never happened before. Some people say, well that’s great, this is a onetime situation and it will never happen again. They have told me this is once in one hundred years, about ten times a year right. So I go the other way. I believe that this is not the last we’ve seen of it. And I think preparedness is prudence. I would prepare and mitigate and learn from this. We understand what happened. If the water comes to this height again. Let’s make sure it doesn’t do this amount of damage again and let’s make the repairs now, and that's covered in this bill.

In terms of damages for Niagara County we’re looking at businesses, roughly 300 homes that we believe have been damaged, about 10 municipalities that sustained damage. Olcott has significant damage. Newfane has significant damage. Orleans Country has significant damage. So I think this is going to make a market difference. You have been businesses that are wiped out in this situation because they’re dependent on tourism. They only have two months to make their money for the year and this is devastating from an economic point of view. You have restaurants, bars, marinas that look forward to the tourism season and people coming up and boating and that has been significantly hurt so this assistance is desperately needed. And you have homeowners who don’t have flood insurance, who couldn’t get flood insurance and this will cover up the $50,000 in damages and to tell someone to find $50,000 to repair their own home for many people that is just impossible. So I am proud of the legislature, I am proud of what they did.

The program goes into effect immediately. We are implementing it. Empire State Development Corporation Howard Zemsky is here. His agency works very well. If you need help go to Empire State Development Corporation. If you s have any issue whatsoever call Howard Zemsky directly. His home number is…you won’t have any problem at Empire State Development Corporation.

I am going to sign the bill, but before I sign the bill, one point. The when you’re governor of New York you deal with a lot of situations and a lot of different aspects of society and you learn things about people. You learn things about people in the good times, sometimes you learn more about people in the bad times. And New York, what makes New York special in many ways is the diversity of New York. You have Upstate New York, you have downstate New York, you have the North Country, all a little different. Right? There really is no upstate New York. There is Western New York which is different than Central New York which is different than the North Country which is different than the Southern Tier. And all those differences really make New York extraordinary, Long Island different than New York City, different values, different cultures. But we are one state. And we are one community. And you see that in situations like this. All the differences go away. All the differences go away and we’re one state, one community, we’re one family. And that’s how people responded. And it really is a testament to the character of New Yorkers.  There has never been a time when there has been an emergency situation, a disaster situation, and I went to the people of the state of New York and I said we need to help Long Island. They just got hit by Hurricane Sandy. They are devastated.

We have to help Mohawk Valley they got hit by Superstorm Irene. They are devastated. Everyone immediately comes to the aid and support of any New Yorker anywhere. When we said to the legislature and the people around the state, Lake Ontario, here’s the situation, people are flooded. 100 percent we’re there, we’ll do whatever we have to do. And that is such a beautiful instinct, you know? I’ve never heard, "Well that’s their problem, they’re at the other end of the state, no." We are one state, one people. And with the New York State legislature, we have democrats, we have republicans, we have liberals, we have conservatives, we have everybody in that New York State Legislature. But at times like this, when things are at their worst, New Yorkers are at their best. And this legislature stepped up and did what I find most admirable. They put the politics aside and they acted in the best interests of the people of the state of New York. And we’re not democrats first. We’re not republicans first. We are New Yorkers first and we act in the best interests of the people of the State of New York. And that’s what we did with this bill, $55 million from your neighbors in the state of New York. We’re here to help. Let’s sign the bill. Thank you!

 

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