The Niagara County Department of Emergency Services is inviting the public to take part in updating the county’s hazard mitigation plan (HMP), beginning with an online plan launch meeting at 6 p.m. June 9. Those interested in participating can register at https://tinyurl.com/2aame9b7. The HMP was last updated in 2017.
“If you live in Niagara County, odds are you’ve been significantly impacted by floods, wind and snow,” said Jonathan Schultz, director of emergency services. “In a recent survey of 130 Niagara County residents, over 75% were significantly and negatively impacted by these hazard events in the past 10 years. That’s why continuing to update our hazard mitigation plan is so important.”
According to Schultz, nearly half of survey respondents said hazards damaged their home. Niagara County recorded more than $38 million in damages from natural hazards between 1996 and 2018, according to NOAA’s storm events dataset.
“Flooding is Niagara County’s top natural hazard concern, with particular focus on the Lake Ontario shoreline, where rising lake levels caused extensive costly damage in recent years,” Schultz said. “Flash flooding can also cause significant damages, like the extreme flood that hit the county in July 2021 that caused millions of dollars in damages. The increasing frequency of strong winds, snowstorms and extreme temperatures are also growing concerns in Niagara County.”
Schultz said, to combat hazard concerns, Niagara County is working with local municipalities and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute to update its HMP. Updating the plan will make all Niagara County cities, towns and villages eligible for federal and state hazard grant funds.
“The plan gives us a way to work together across the county to lay out strategies, since many of our communities share many common hazard risks,” Schultz said. “For example, critical infrastructure may be outdated and vulnerable to hazards. Many public facilities are in need of backup power. The invasive Emerald Ash Borer led to a spread of dead ash trees that can fall during extreme winds, causing power outages, property damages and road closures. Fallen trees can also build up with debris and silt to clog streams, creeks and ditches, creating new flooding issues.
Niagara County is one of the first counties across New York to create a hazard mitigation plan using MitigateNY, the new online hazard mitigation planning platform developed by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (NYSDHSES), and the University at Albany’s Visualization and Informatics Laboratory (AVAIL). The plan includes separate sections for each municipality that can be accessed by a dropdown menu in the top right panel.
Schultz said the public process begins with the June 9 online meeting. The public can review the plan the draft plan at https://niagara.mitigateny.org and is asked to provide feedback during a one-month public comment period through June and July. There is a feedback form linked on the website, or comments can be emailed to [email protected].
Following a review by the state, local municipalities will formally adopt the plan, ensuring that all local governments are working together to mitigate hazards and address pressing concerns. Niagara County’s HMP must be approved by FEMA for the county and its towns, cities and villages to be eligible for FEMA grants. The expected completion date is July.