Cuomo touts Lake Ontario flood relief package
by: Meaghan M. McDermott and Steve Orr
With Lake Ontario as his backdrop yet again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to the local shoreline Thursday afternoon to tout a $55 million aid package that includes relief for homeowners, businesses and municipalities affected by the extraordinary flooding this year.
The governor spoke for about a half-hour before several hundred residents and supporters at Westage at the Harbor, a lakefront condominium complex in Irondequoit. He used the opportunity to praise state legislators for approving a negotiated bill that includes $45 million for shoreline interests.
“You have businesses that have been devastated by this. You have homeowners who have been wiped out,” he said. “We can’t solve the problems Mother Nature created, but we can make it better and we can make sure it’s not economically devastating.”
The legislation, which Cuomo signed ceremonially on the shoreline Thursday, also includes $10 million to reimburse local governments, including those in Monroe County, for expenses related to the fierce March windstorm.
Behind Cuomo as he spoke Thursday was a 250-foot-long temporary breakwall that the state provided last week to protect the apartment complex from further flood damage. The state has purchased 8,000 feet of the long fabric bladders, which are filled with water, and deployed about 2,000 feet so far.
In his remarks Thursday, the governor said he would be sending a letter shortly to federal officials informing them he intended to seek a White House disaster declaration and accompanying federal assistance.
“I believe the federal government owes the state of New York reimbursement for the cost of this relief program,” Cuomo said.
In order to seek a disaster declaration, municipalities must document spending at least $27.7 million responding to the shoreline flooding. If the president declares the shoreline a disaster area, Washington would reimburse the municipal expenses and federal emergency officials would assess whether the flooding was severe enough to merit aid to individuals and businesses.
Cuomo said he believes the state will surpass the $27.7 million threshold, though emergency officials have said it is a reach to think that the shoreline flooding would qualify for individual aid.
Cuomo also said Thursday he would ask President Trump to appoint “qualified” new representatives to the International Joint Commission, the U.S.-Canada treaty organization that oversees the regulation of Lake Ontario water levels.
The governor and others have been critical of the IJC’s response to the high water this spring and summer. IJC officials have said they’ve taken every reasonable step possible to lower the lake and minimize flooding.
Cuomo came to Edgemere Drive in Greece on Memorial Day to announce his own aid program for shoreline interests, and he visited Edgemere Drive again in June to tout the program and the state’s acquisition of the temporary breakwalls.
The final state aid package, approved by state lawmakers in late June in the waning hours of the session, was a compromise deal.
It improved upon the aid levels the governor had implemented but scaled back lawmakers’original plan for $90 million in aid. Cuomo had questioned whether the state had the money to fund the original bill.
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, and state Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaguia, brokered the deal. Cuomo praised both of them Thursday, and said the work of Helming, a first-term senator, had been “extraordinary.”
- Cover damage caused by flooding that happened between Jan. 1 and June 30.
- Provide homeowners with grants of no more than $50,000 for fixes that aren’t covered by insurance. There is no income cap for primary homes. For non-primary homes, there is a household income cap of $275,000.
- Provide small businesses, farms, homeowners associations, not-for-profits and owners of rental units with grants of up to $50,000 for repairs, although grants are capped at $20,000 for owners of multiple dwellings.
- Allow local governments to reduce property assessments of homes damaged by flooding, and let homeowners take state income tax deductions if they have to pay for repairs by tapping their retirement accounts.
- Provide $15 million for local governments.
The program will be administered through not-for-profit housing organizations. In Monroe County, that organization is the Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation.