ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County supervisors hope a tide of letters from people whose property suffered flood damage this spring might have more effect on the federal government than their pleas have.
Property owners in this area have again been denied federal aid, even though people in Vermont, on the other side of Lake Champlain, can get it. Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, R-Moriah, suggested Monday that these affected people write letters to federal officials.
"If they all write their own, individual letters, it might have an impact," agreed Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas, D-Jay.
Douglas said New York counties have been denied federal aid because New York is considered a big state, meaning its threshold for how much damage it needs before it can get federal help is higher. New York needed to have at least 800 damaged homes and businesses to qualify for the federal Individual Assistance program, and most of the flood damage was in sparsely populated Adirondack counties.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency first denied Gov. Andrew Cuomo's application for Individual Assistance aid at the beginning of July, though the area was granted federal assistance to rebuild public infrastructure.
Later in July, the Cuomo administration appealed the decision, asking specifically that aid for individuals be provided to 15 northern New York counties, including Franklin and Essex. Crews were sent out to reassess property damage, and most counties were able to add a few more homes to their damage reports.
But in a letter dated Aug. 11 from FEMA representative Elizabeth A. Zimmerman to state Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew X. Feeney, FEMA notified the state that its appeal was denied.
"We reaffirm our original finding that the damage to the residences was not of the severity and magnitude to warrant implementation of the Individual Assistance program," Zimmerman wrote. "I regret that we could not reach a favorable conclusion."
Heavy snowmelt and rain triggered flooding in late April and early May, causing an estimated $36 million in damage to public infrastructure across 23 counties and resulting in a federal disaster declaration.
Lake Champlain and the Raquette River reached record flood levels, and there was also extensive flooding on the Saranac and AuSable rivers.
In the Tri-Lakes area, Saranac Lake saw much damage to public infrastructure and waterfront businesses like motels and marinas, but most of the effects of the flood in Tupper Lake were to personal homes. About 40 Tupper Lake residents had to evacuate their homes during the flooding.
Tupper Lake village Mayor Mickey Desmarais shared with his board members at their Monday night meeting the letter informing the state it was again denied assistance.
Desmarais said the news is disappointing to the affected Tupper Lake residents.
"That's tough," Desmarais said. "It's too bad."