With more flooding at hand, shoreline aid is on the way
by: Steve Orr
Note: This story contains updated information received Monday afternoon from state officials.
As residents of the Lake Ontario shoreline prepare for yet another round of flooding, word has arrived that government aid is on the way.
State aid to lakeshore residents whose homes have been damaged by the record high water could begin flowing in a couple of weeks.
Federal assistance is being offered as well, though one element sought by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — aid to help rebuild battered breakwalls — has turned out to be a non-starter.
The water level in Lake Ontario has been far above normal since March, with the worst erosion and flooding taking place when strong northerly winds push larger waves toward the south shore.
At least 10 such episodes have occurred along the shoreline.
What could be the worst one yet, with waves of up to 6 feet slamming the shore in Monroe, Orleans and Niagara counties, is forecast for late Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning.
The National Weather Service issued a lakeshore flood warning for those three counties, effective at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Hundreds of property owners in shoreline communities have already suffered damage to homes from surging water or the pounding action of waves.
Cuomo visited hard-hit Edgemere Drive in Greece last Monday to inspect flood damage and to announce that the state would make $7 million in grant money available to help shoreline home owners repair structural damage to homes and cottages.
Four established nonprofit housing groups already have been enlisted to administer the program — taking in claims from homeowners, overseeing the work and seeing to it that funds are disbursed.
State officials say they are fast-tracking the Lake Ontario recovery program and money could begin flowing to contractors and homeowners in a matter of weeks.
Cuomo also said last Monday that he had asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help residents rebuild or improve breakwalls and the strategically placed boulders known as riprap.
Many of the protective structures have been damaged or destroyed by waves over the last three months. Many others have been shown to be inadequate for water that has been as much as 3 feet above the long-term average.
But Corps of Engineers officials, who have just released details of the planning and construction aid they can provide to address future flooding, say their mission is to protect public infrastructure, not private homes.
“We don’t do work for private property,” spokesman Michael Izard-Carroll said Monday.
The Corps has no objection if a project to protect public infrastructure incidentally helps nearby private owners too, he said.
In the spring and summer of 1973, the Corps of Engineers did a considerable amount of work to bolster shoreline protection of private land, placing stone-filled wire baskets or piles of boulders along 11 sections of shoreline in Monroe County alone.
Many current lakeshore residents remember that work, or have heard about it, and many have peppered Corps’ officials with requests that they perform similar work now.
But the situation in 1973 was different, Izard-Carroll noted. Water was high throughout the Great Lakes the previous winter and shoreline flooding was anticipated in many locations, allowing the Corps to tap flood-prevention funds.
That was not possible this time around, when the water level spiked in March with no forewarning.
“As far as the collective memory goes, people know the Corps did something (in 1973),” he said. “But they don’t know how to distinguish between different programs.”
The Corps has provided technical assistance to state and local governments to help with the current flooding, but is shifting to a forward-looking mode.
The Corps could, for instance, provide design and construction funding for work to protect against future flooding of public infrastructure such as roads and sewer systems and to protect against future erosion or damage to public shoreline.
It also can help communities develop long-term plans to guard against future high-water episodes.
State or local governments must share the cost of those undertakings.
Those same local governments will take the lead in the $7 million program announced by Cuomo to help shoreline residents recover from flooding.
Some highlights of how that program will work, provided by state officials:
- Four nonprofits will oversee the program. In Monroe and Wayne counties, it will be Sheen Housing; in Orleans, it’s Pathstone.
- Homeowners will file claims with those nonprofits, which will assess each claim, determine if the work is eligible and help identify contractors to do the work. The nonprofits also inspect the work and certify that it was done correctly.
- Reimbursement is available for work already done. Capable homeowners can do the work themselves and seek reimbursement for material costs.
- The nonprofits can keep up to 10 percent of awards to cover overhead.
- Homeowners are eligible for up to $40,000 for work that is not covered by insurance except for seniors, for whom there is no cap. But the maximum grant is adjusted for income. For instance, assistance to a two-person household in Monroe County with annual income over $82,300 would be capped at $25,000.
Whether $7 million will cover all the claims filed by residents in eight shoreline counties remains to be seen.
A bill passed in the state Senate would provide $20 million in damage-recovery aid for residents, and one pending in the state Assembly would provide $40 million for that purpose.