Local officials blast FEMA rejection

Published Dec 7, 2017 at 4:00pm

County, state and federal officials are taking issue with the federal government’s refusal to declare a major disaster in response to severe weather that hit parts of the county and elsewhere in the state earlier this year.

The Federal  Emergency Management Agency has denied New York state’s request for major disaster assistance to support recovery efforts following high winds, heavy rain and flooding in June and July. Oneida and Madison were among the 15 counties included in the state’s application. Parts of Oneida County were hit hard by Mother Nature on July 1.

“FEMA’s denial of the state’s request for funding is wrong, frustrating and needs to be appealed,” said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome. “In a time when it seems more severe weather and natural disasters are occurring with more regularity, FEMA should reexamine and reassess its decision-making process when it comes to providing assistance for communities that have been impacted by natural disasters such as the flooding that occurred this past July.”

He added, “The agency must ensure that it has the appropriate level of funding available to meet all of the needs of our communities and residents across the nation who may find themselves impacted by these devastating natural and weather-related events. I am hopeful that the federal government will revisit this decision, reverse it, acknowledge the state’s request and provide much-needed financial assistance.”

Had the declaration been granted, federal funding would been made available to the state and eligible local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations, on a cost-sharing basis to support debris removal, structure repairs and emergency protective measures.

The damage tally for Oneida County alone is $10 million, not counting personal damages, according to County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.

“I think he should come and see it,” he said, referring to FEMA Administrator Brock Long.

Picente said the agency’s decision reinforces his view that it has difficulties responding positively to localized situations compared to widespread disasters that impact large areas.

He called the denial an “outrage.”

“It is simply incomprehensible to me that FEMA has concluded that local residents and municipalities in the Mohawk Valley and other parts of the state do not need additional resources following the devastating flooding that hit our area last July,” said Assemblyman Anthony J. Brindisi, D-119, Utica. “Over the last five months, I have heard from many residents who still have not recovered from this storm.”

He urged members of New York’s congressional delegation to contact FEMA administrators and ask they take a second look at the application.

Congresswoman Claudia L.“ Tenney, R-22, New Hartford, too is dismayed by FEMA’s decision.

“A federal disaster declaration would have gone a long way to help families and municipalities recover from this summer’s extreme weather and excessive flooding,” she said. “I am deeply disappointed that FEMA has denied this request for federal assistance, and I will support an immediate appeal of this decision.” 

Tenney said her office has been involved with recovery efforts since the the flooding occurred in parts of her district in early July.

“We visited numerous homes and businesses, were in direct contact with more than 100 impacted residents and passed several individual damage assessments along to FEMA and state officials,” she said. “Seeing these properties firsthand, I know that the scope of damage is beyond the response capabilities of state and local governments, and should warrant targeted federal recovery assistance.”

In less than a week after the July 1 downpour that drenched parts of Oneida County, Picente announced $2.75 million for flood mitigation, cleanup and relief efforts. The ​Whitesboro area was one of the hardest hit areas in the county.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo traveled to Whitesboro in August to announce the state was committing money for local flood mitigation work. Speaking in the parking lot at Boulevard Trailers, with the Sauquoit Creek right behind him, the governor said New York was going to spend $2.5 million to widen and deepen the waterway and allocating an additional $250,000 for mitigation efforts and training for first responders.