FEMA relief on the way to Adirondacks
After Biden approval, towns damaged by flooding can receive aid
LONG LAKE — Federal money can now begin flowing into local towns that sustained damage during severe rain and flooding earlier this month. President Joe Biden on Saturday approved a “Major Disaster Declaration” for eight New York counties — including Clinton, Essex and Hamilton — making public assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency available.
Federal funding is available to state, tribal and local governments in Clinton, Dutchess, Essex, Hamilton, Ontario, Orange, Putnam and Rockland counties, as well as “certain private nonprofit organizations,” according to a FEMA news release. The flooding on July 10 and 11 in the central Adirondacks washed out roads and bridges, flooded homes and buried them in mud, and created a mess around the towns of Long Lake, Blue Mountain Lake and Newcomb.
FEMA spokesperson Dasha Castillo said these funds are rolled out through reimbursement, sharing costs with the local municipalities — usually a 75% to 25% split, with FEMA taking the larger slice of the pie.
Castillo said the money will be distributed on a “case-by-case basis,” so the total is open-ended. Castillo said municipalities document the damages and turn in paperwork to FEMA. The total costs of the repairs are added up after a final assessment. FEMA is continuing to conduct damage assessments throughout this week.
FEMA offers two forms of disaster assistance programs — individual and public. Individual is for civilians. Public is for governments and infrastructure. Right now, only public assistance has been approved. Castillo said individual assistance for the flooding is currently “under review.”
“It’s very important that families that have sustained damages to contact their local office of emergency management so that we can have a broader spectrum of the incident,” Castillo said.
If individual assistance is approved, to be counted and eligible for that aid, it must be documented. Castillo said they hope to have a report next week to determine if individual assistance is needed.
The state is also urging flood victims to file insurance claims process as soon as possible.
Local governments can use this federal money to repair and replace damaged facilities, remove debris, evaluate roads and bridges, or off-set costs from utilities and equipment, Castillo said. FEMA has named Lai Sun Yee as the federal coordinating officer for this money.
Hamilton County Emergency Services Director Jill Dunham said she has been working on a damage assessment with the county highway department and federal Department of Homeland Security, but they don’t have their final numbers yet. These will determine how much they request from the federal government. The damage in Hamilton County is primarily in Long Lake and Blue Mountain Lake, Dunham said.
Long Lake town Supervisor Clay Arsenault was excited to hear about the money on Monday morning. He had been reaching out daily to local and regional officials to check in on the status of their aid request for the past two weeks. He received a text with the confirmation from the Hamilton County highway superintendent at around 9:30 a.m.
Arsenault told the Enterprise at noon that he hadn’t seen any of the official process of how this money will roll out, so he knew very little of the details. But he said they are ready to apply and hopes the additional money will help with rebuilding.
The town has already repaired a lot of its road infrastructure, but there’s plenty more to be done, he added. This work started almost immediately after the sun rose on July 10, as the town had been impassable because a spillway under state Route 30 had washed out. This crucial state Route 30/28N intersection was reopened the next day after quick repair efforts from highway crews and volunteers. The roads to Tupper Lake and Blue Mountain Lake — state routes 30 and 28N — were reopened on July 12.
But the 28N road to Newcomb is still closed to traffic.
In the first few days after the storm, there were residents along 28N who were blocked in on either side because of road washouts.
These people were not completely stranded. They could still walk or bike to town. But they couldn’t drive in for quite a while. That portion of 28N is reopened for local traffic and access to the town transfer station now.
“It’s a dead end,” Arsenault said. “You can’t take 28(N) to Newcomb still.”
Thanks all around
Gov. Kathy Hochul sent a letter requesting the FEMA aid to the White House last week, which estimated the statewide infrastructure damages at $50 million. That does not include private damages to homes and businesses.
“I’m thankful President Biden has approved my request for a Major Disaster Declaration,” Hochul said in a statement on Monday.
“The speed and support our federal government is a testimony of what makes America truly great,” Hamilton County Chair Brian Wells said in a statement.
North Country federal senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand both thanked Biden for heeding their calls for the disaster declaration. Schumer, the Senate majority leader, called the disaster “a once in a generation flooding event.”
North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, had sent a letter to Hochul in the week after the flooding urging her to expand New York’s state of emergency for Clinton, Essex and Hamilton counties to cover July 1 through July 11 to strengthen calls for FEMA aid.
“Currently, New York State’s emergency declarations do not include the full extent of the serious flooding from July 1st through July 10th,” she said at the time.
Staff from the state Department of Financial Services have been deployed to affected areas to help residents file insurance claims, according to Hochul’s office. People can also call the DFS disaster hotline at 800-339-1759.
The state is also working with the U.S. Small Business Administration to pursue low-interest recovery loans for impacted businesses, according to Hochul’s office.