Preparedness & Recovery

Cuomo Ceremonially Inks $55 Million Bill for Lake Ontario Flood Relief

He said the $55 million appropriation reflects the state’s estimates of damages, but assured communities more is available.

by Robert J. McCarthy, The Buffalo News, N.Y. / July 7, 2017
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(TNS) - With the sunken docks of Wilson Harbor as a backdrop, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday signed the bill that sends $55 million in aid to communities, businesses and homeowners ravaged by Lake Ontario’s historic high water levels and for separate wind damage in the Southern Tier.

But while the bill he ceremonially inked at the Sunset Bar and Grill proves far lower than the $90 million earlier allocated by the Legislature, Cuomo emphasized that if the coastal communities need more, Albany will be there for them. Cuomo had already officially signed the bill days earlier.

“I have no problem going back to the Legislature for more money,” he told reporters following the bill-signing ceremony held before state and local officials and more than 100 onlookers.

The $90 million figure emerged from final negotiations among legislative leaders during last week’s special session. But Cuomo said he insisted on the lesser figure because he was not convinced lawmakers had backed their version with enough available funds.

“The problem with the first bill was there was no appropriation with it,” he said. “They pass bills all the time for an amount of money but then they don’t attach the money.”

He said the $55 million appropriation he signed on Thursday reflects the state’s estimates of damages, but assured communities more is available.

“We will not run out of money,” he said.

The reduced amount of aid disappointed officials like Wilson Mayor Arthur Lawson, who attended the event.

“Fifty-five million ain’t going to cover it, but it’s a start,” he said. “My biggest concern is how complicated is it going to be to access the $55 million, and just how quickly are they going to get it to people. But the larger amount is definitely preferable.”

The mayor said prospective tourists need to know that village restaurants and shops, even in Wilson’s hard-hit harbor, are open.

“We need people to visit our businesses,” Lawson said.

The governor emphasized that the state needed to address the needs of “devastated” homeowners who can receive up to $50,000 in aid, small business owners who can also receive $50,000, and $1 million for municipalities. The sum sends $45 million to the Lake Ontario communities, while $10 million is committed to addressing wind damage from March storms in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

“I think this is going to make a marked difference,” he said.

The governor also said the state will apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a disaster declaration that could result in aid from Washington. But his agencies are in the process of compiling damage estimates before sending any paperwork to FEMA.

“I don’t want to submit anything for that threshold until we have a full accounting of all the damage,” he said, adding he expects the process to end in coming weeks. “I expect to meet the threshold.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, a Batavia Republican, on Wednesday joined other elected officials from the affected flood areas to sign a joint letter to Cuomo asking him to petition President Trump for a disaster declaration.

“It is crucial that we continue to sound the alarm about the devastating conditions residents and businesses are enduring here on Lake Ontario’s southern shore,” Hawley said. “We have made great strides in securing funding to help us rebuild and repair, but much more needs to be done and it is time that the federal government step in and lend a hand.”

The governor also called upon Trump to revamp the International Joint Commission, an organization responsible for regulating lake levels – and which has attracted Cuomo’s criticism.

He has asked Trump to replace the two sitting commissioners and to fill a vacant seat. He noted one current commissioner hails from Montana.

“I call upon President Trump to replace ... with appointees who know what they are talking about and who know the Great Lakes,” he said.

Cuomo complimented the Legislature and its diverse members from around the state for rallying behind the emergency state legislation.

“It really is a testament to the character of New Yorkers,” he said. “Everyone immediately comes to the aid and support of any New Yorker anywhere.”

News Staff Reporter Stephen T. Watson contributed to this report.

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