KEENE - Exactly one year ago Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stood on the grounds of the old Keene firehouse and was stunned by the damage caused by flood waters from a raging Gulf Brook.
Today, a year and a day after Tropical Storm Irene hit on Aug. 28, 2011, the governor stood on the grounds where the new fire station will be built, this time bearing good news: The state will kick in $640,000 for construction of the new firehouse.
"The building was cut in half," Cuomo said of the old firehouse, "and we said, 'We'll build back, and not only will we build back, but we will build back better than before.'"
Gov. Andrew Cuomo puts an exclamation point after his name as he signs a check for $640,000 to help the Keene Fire Department build a new firehouse after the old one was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene. His daughter, Michaela and Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee look on Wednesday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
The announcement is welcome news for Keene fire officials, who had hoped to break ground on the new firehouse earlier this month. The project was delayed after the Federal Emergency Management Agency reduced a $680,000 grant by about half, leaving the project with a $340,000 shortfall.
Cuomo credited town, county and fire district officials for coming together and finding funds for the new firehouse, which is expected to cost no more than $2.3 million. Voters approved a $500,000 bond in April, and the fire district received an insurance settlement totaling about $635,000. More than $100,000 in private donations has been collected to date as well.
The $340,000 will cover the reduction in FEMA funds. The remaining $300,000 will reimburse the fire department for the money it spent to buy the former Mountain Manor property on state Route 73, across from Stewart's Shop.
Cuomo told reporters the state will continue to work with the federal government on recovery efforts related to Irene. He said the town of Keene will continue to pursue the funding it was promised by FEMA.
"But time was getting short," Cuomo said. "If we didn't move now we were going to lose the season, so something had to be done. After months of going back and forth, we just wanted to step up and get this project done; we wanted to get the reconstruction under way. We'll figure it out one way or another with the federal government."
Cuomo said the new firehouse will be "much better" than the old one. He said it will be bigger, with more equipment and a full commercial kitchen.
"It's great," said Alan Carey, director of the Keene Fire Board of Commissioners. "I was a little skeptical until I saw the big check. The governor has come through on everything that he's said he's going to. It doesn't quite cover everything that we lost from FEMA, but hopefully FEMA is still going to be in for some money."
Carey said he hopes FEMA will be able to contribute about $380,000 toward the new firehouse.
Many of the old rental cabins at the former Mountain Manor have been torn down, and excavators, parked onsite Wednesday, have already been used to level some of the grounds. Carey said the property was tested for contaminated soil prior to its purchase because it used to be a gas station. The old buildings were tested for asbestos before they were demolished, he added.
Carey said fire officials were ready to break ground on the project when FEMA announced it was cutting its funding.
"We opened bids on the 31st of July on the anticipation that the funds were going to be obligated on the first of August like we were told," he said. "On the third of August, they pulled the (project worksheet) back into review. And we have not heard one official word from FEMA since I signed the project worksheet on the first of June - no formal communication with them whatsoever."
Two of the fire department's vehicles were stored in what was left of the old firehouse last winter, two were kept at a private facility and one was parked at the town highway garage. Carey said he hopes there will be a roof on the new structure before snow falls, although it won't be finished until sometime next spring.
"We can manage some way to store them," he said. "Possibly, if we have to, we'll rent more storage and have to go after FEMA for more money for temporary housing. But they have stepped up to the plate and paid for that. It's costing us $100 a month for heated storage for the two vehicles, and FEMA paid 100 percent of that."
Keene fire Chief Jody Whitney said he's pleased that Cuomo was able to step up and "take care of business.
"We've had a very rough road," Whitney said. "We've been riding a roller coaster for several months, and he's coming through. He made the promise that we're going to build bigger and better."
Whitney said the new fire station will be on higher ground. He said the structure will be safer for firefighters and the community as a whole.
Cuomo, who has been a frequent visitor to the Adirondacks for both business and pleasure, said he had to return to Albany on Wednesday, where he had a "whole bunch of work" on his desk.
"Unfortunately," Cuomo added. "I wish we could stay here."
Carey's granddaughter, Megan Quinn, presented Cuomo with a bouquet of flowers after the check signing. Quinn, a third-grader at Keene Central School, got her picture taken with the governor for a school project.
"We're bringing in pictures for what we did over the summer," Quinn said. "It was fun to meet the governor."
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.