Porter session follows Cuomo's $45 million in assistance
By Terry Duffy
Niagara County-area property owners on Lake Ontario who have struggled with disastrous flooding and erosion conditions along the lake shore this spring met with local officials Thursday to discuss remediation assistance.
The session, organized by Porter homeowner Linda White (wife of Porter Councilman Larry White), and Kathy Steinman, executive director of Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Services Inc., was held at Porter on the Lake Park. It included state, local and county officials, and expanded upon last week's announcement in Wilson by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide $45 million in relief to cover remediation repairs for communities statewide that have been impacted by Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River flooding.
"The purpose of this meeting is to assist in remediation and access to funds and how to do it," said New York State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, who attended the session with Assemblyman Mike Norris and Robert Welch, constituent relations manager from New York State Sen. Robert Ortt's office. The office of U.S. Rep. Chris Collins was not in attendance, but is said to be monitoring the issue. "I know you have a lot of issues with the 2014 Plan. But ... that is not our focus tonight. We have immediate needs."
Morinello informed the residents, who numbered more than 100, that, following his declaration request last week for federal assistance, Cuomo expedited the Clean Water Fund, which won approval by both branches of the New York State Legislature. Its passage allows municipalities immediate access to funding for water and sewer remediation.
In addition, the governor moved to expedite issuance of any required state DEC permits for private property owners. Once issued, those permits are good until April 2019.
"They are doing their job," Morinello said of the state response. "Mother Nature we've had trouble with, the Joint Commission we have trouble with, but state government, they came to the forefront" on this.
Mike Russo, assistant attorney general in charge of the state attorney general's Buffalo regional office, and Karen Davis of the AG's consumer contractor's bureau, provided information to the affected property owners on selecting reliable, local contractors. He discussed the risks of hiring unscrupulous contractors under trying circumstances.
"You want to make sure the contractor you hire is someone who is licensed if they need to be, (or) are they insured," Russo said. "If you are going to be spending thousands of dollars, see if they're insured. ... You have the right to know.
"You do not need to be victimized by a bad contractor after what you've been going through," Davis said.
She and Russo encouraged property owners to utilize their information and not to hesitate to contact the AG's Buffalo regional office should they encounter problems.
Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey of Wilson, a Lake Ontario property owner who has served as the county's point man with the state and federal governments on the lake flooding/erosion problem, updated visitors. Discussed was the federal remediation assistance that led to the Cuomo announcement. Also, the status of the International Joint Commission, which has seen two of its members submit resignations following the Plan 2014 controversy.
"This is about remediation, getting some repair," Godfrey said. He told visitors of his June 27 meeting in Washington with Collins. "It was an outstanding meeting. ... There was five counties represented. We had the Army Corps, we had FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)."
He said federal officials stand ready to act - once a declaration request for disaster assistance is submitted by the governor to President Donald Trump. "They handed me all kinds of documentation - how to do it; what's going to happen; what the procedure is; when they're going to be on site.
"They can't do anything until the governor sends a letter to President Trump, requesting for the declaration of disaster. They can do absolutely zero."
Godfrey said that, following that meeting, state officials, including Norris, Ortt and Assemblyman Steve Pauley from Orleans County, put pressure on the governor's office to initiate the declaration request to Trump, which was done last week leading to Cuomo's Wilson visit.
Commenting on Cuomo's delay in responding to the flooding plight of area lake property owners, Godfrey told the crowd that, following Hurricane Sandy, the governor initiated a formal request for FEMA assistance within four days.
"It is sad that the governor's office has sat on this for this long, and here we're suffering. And this lake is not going to go down ... not till October," Godfrey said. "We're going to live with the lake; it's sad news, but it's going to be there, and every nor'easter it's going to be a problem."
Regarding the IJC, Godfrey informed visitors that two members who had been sitting on board submitted their resignations in the wake of Plan 2014. That follows another IJC member resignation in December, which now brings to three the number of commission vacancies waiting to be filled.
Calling for action, Godfrey said, "We've got to get the plan; we've got to change the plan."
He told the crowd of a technician from Canada who worked with the IJC on Plan 2014, with studies done on the inflows, the weather, "and everything that has transpired since the lake was going up."
"In his conclusion, 'It appears that Plan 2014 didn't help,' " Godfrey said.
The technician cited multiple problems created by changing late winter weather, ice and flooding from unusually heavy spring rains, and suggested Plan 2014, with its regulations on the lake's outflows, only exacerbated the situation.
Joining the calls for change at IJC, Godfrey told the crowd, "We're going to continue the fight until this is corrected. We cannot sustain this damage another year."
He closed by urging attendees to be vigilant in their push for a change, with state representation in the IJC membership, and for scrapping Plan 2014.
"Our plan going forward is to get that plan totally rejected and to get Plan C back in there, which had been the balanced plan ... back in the early 2000s," Godfrey said.
Discussing the funding application process for the $45 million in assistance announced by Cuomo, Ortt spokesman Welch provided information to attendees detailing the contacts, the websites, etc., to get assistance.
"This gives you the links to the applications for the funding process," he said.
Welch reported the nonprofit Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. would administer the state assistance program to all affected property owners in Niagara County. Welch and NHS Executive Director Steinman said that, of the $45 million being availed statewide, $10 million would be going to eligible municipalities; $15 million to small businesses, farms, homeowners associations and not for profits that have been affected; and $15 million to eligible homeowners statewide, with the remaining left in balance.
Primary homeowners would be eligible for up to $50,000 in assistance, with no income cap, and secondary homeowners (from two to four units and up) would be eligible for up to $50,000, with an income cap of $275,000.
Those eligible include all impacted shoreline properties in Niagara County, including Lewiston, the lower river, Youngstown, Porter, Wilson, Olcott, Newfane and Somerset areas, out to the county line.
Steinman said the state assistance provided would be in the form of reimbursements, not grants, meaning property owners would need to provide the upfront money for all repairs, and file an application for funding.
In continuing to build the case for FEMA assistance, Welch urged all impacted property owners to forward Collins' office their estimates of damage. Those estimates may be sent to Erynn Hook, senior legislative assistant, Rep. Chris Collins, New York-27, 1117 Longworth HOB, Washington, D.C., 20515. Or email [email protected]
, or call 202-225-5265.
Officials announced that evening that a follow-up session updating affected property owners of any changes (state, FEMA or otherwise) would be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, at Porter Town Hall (location is subject to change). For more information on the Aug. 17 session, call Porter Town Hall at 716-745-3730.