President Barack Obama has declared a federal disaster in Essex, Franklin and 19 other New York counties that were hit by a series of fierce spring storms that triggered widespread flooding.
The declaration, which Obama issued Friday, makes federal money available to help pay for emergency work and infrastructure repair or replacement. He cited the run of severe weather that battered much of the state with a mix of flooding, strong winds and tornadoes from April 26 to May 8.
Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost called the declaration "good and welcome news" for the county, which sustained an estimated $11 million in damage to public infrastructure, primarily in Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
"Hopefully we'll be able to get enough money to get things back to the way they were pre-disaster," Provost said Friday. "It's going to create a lot of work for my office but that's what we're here for."
Provost said he expects FEMA representatives to come to the county in the next few weeks to begin coordinating the federal operation. There likely will be kick-off meetings in the communities impacted by the flooding, and FEMA officials will help the towns and villages draft plans for repairing their infrastructure, he said.
The flooding that began in mid-April was triggered by a combination of heavy rains and spring snowmelt. Lake Champlain and the AuSable, Raquette and Saranac rivers all spilled over their banks, and water levels remained high for weeks. A number of people had to be evacuated from their homes during the height of the flooding in both Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
Provost noted that the federal disaster declaration only applies to public infrastructure.
"We were assured by (the state Office of Emergency Management) that they're still working on the individual assistance part of that program, just that they haven't come to terms with the federal government at this point in time," Provost said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, toured flood-damaged areas in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Moriah and Plattsburgh, and pushed for federal assistance.
"I am pleased that several counties in Upstate New York have qualified for assistance to help affected communities recover from spring flooding," Owens said in a prepared statement Friday. "I continue to stand ready to help local leaders as we enter the next stage in the rebuilding process."
In addition to Essex and Franklin, the declaration covers the following counties: Allegany, Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Clinton, Delaware, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Madison, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Steuben, Tioga, Ulster, Warren, and Yates.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency official will coordinate the federal operation. FEMA says more places could be added to the list later based on damage assessments.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.