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Niagara County officials seek waiver for REDI projects

Fri, Jun 19th 2020 09:45 am

$31.7M in shoreline projects affected

By Terry Duffy

Editor-in-Chief

As planning continues toward restoration of Niagara County shoreline areas under the New York State Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI), Niagara County legislators are now putting out the call for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to consider waiving the 5% local funding share.

Under the Cuomo-backed REDI measure, approved by the State Legislature and announced with great fanfare last year, impacted shoreline communities along Lake Ontario from Youngstown to the St. Lawrence became eligible for millions in state assistance to repair damaged areas from high water levels.

“Let’s do everything we can to get ahead of it and be prepared,” Cuomo said at a press gathering in Olcott last year as he detailed the planned state assistance. “… Contact your local government officials, have them contact the state, and we’ll get you what you need.”

Through the REDI plan, the state committed toward funding of 95% of the costs, with localities expected to pick up the remaining 5% balance.

In Niagara County, that amounted to 11 lakeshore-area rehab projects now in planning for communities stretching from Newfane to Youngstown. Significant projects along the Lake Ontario waterfront include the $14 million Olcott Harbor Breakwater in the Town of Newfane, the $4.4 million Wilson Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Village of Wilson, the $3.6 million Sunset Island West Barrier Bar in the Town of Wilson, the $2.1 million Village of Youngstown Waterfront Project and the $1.2 million Lewiston Landing (nearing completion) in the Village of Lewiston.

Total cost of those projects amounted to $31,794,688, with local communities expected to cover the remaining 5%, or $1,589,735.

However, after having experienced the coronavirus pandemic over past months, Niagara County cities and towns – like those throughout the country – are contending with the pronounced negative financial impacts of extended shutdowns on their respective budgets. As a result, county officials are now asking the state for relief on having to address the 5% funding share.

In a June 11 letter authored to the governor by Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh, Vice Chairman John Syracuse and legislators Irene Myers and David Godfrey, county officials cited the mounting economic difficulties now facing localities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Local governments were already having difficulty identifying the 5% funding match before the pandemic; now it has become virtually impossible,” the county officials wrote. “Much like your request to the federal government to waive the 25% match FEMA requires of the state for federal disaster funds, we are asking you to do the same for us with REDI funds – waive the local match. …

“The 5% share of these 11 projects totals only $1.6 million, not a lot of money to the state, but an insurmountable hurdle locally.”

In closing, the county officials wrote, “Governor, the lakeshore communities in Niagara County need to get these projects done. It would be a shame if these projects lag because of the 5% match. Again, please consider waiving the local match requirement. Thank you for your consideration.”

As of this week, county officials were said to be still awaiting a response to the letter from the governor’s office.

“We have not heard back from the governor yet on our request,” Wydysh said on Thursday. “So I will continue to be in contact and ask Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul who I work with on regional economic issues (to see if we can get this resolved).”

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