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July 3, 2013

Schumer asks feds for disaster relief aid

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Otsego, Delaware and Chenango counties are among New York counties that could receive millions of dollars from the federal government if Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is successful in convincing President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide relief to flood-battered counties.

Otsego County has been forced to close County Highway 31 indefinitely as the result of a mudslide Friday that tore a gaping hole in the roadway and sent it tumbling down a steep bank just south of Pathfinder Lodge.

Otsego County Highway Supt. Ron Tiderencel estimated that one road repair job alone will cost about $500,000.

“We’d like to get that fixed as soon as possible,” said Tiderencel.

Schumer said the severe weather in recent days left 15 upstate counties severely impacted.

Flooding problems continued in the Norwich and Sherburne areas Tuesday. Much of the Chenango County Fairgrounds was reported to be flooded. Meanwhile, a stretch of State Route 80 north of U.S. Route 20 remained closed, pushing more traffic onto other roads, including Route 20, officials said.

The officials said they were concerned what the Route 80 closure, the Highway 31 shutdown and other flooding problems might portend for July 4 holiday traffic heading to a region known as a tourism destination.

“Upstate New York has been hammered with severe flooding and dangerous debris after days of heavy rainfall, and the Mohawk Valley, foothills of the Adirondacks, and portions of the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley have borne the brunt of the damage,” Schumer said. “It is critical that we get federal resources on the ground as soon as possible, so that they can rebuild after this severe weather.”

Schumer said a federal declaration that the upstate counties are eligible for the federal aid “is necessary because it will give reassurance to our communities that the federal government will be there to help respond and recover.” He said he was hoping Obama and FEMA will make the declaration “as quickly as possible.”

Otsego County Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Springfield, the chairman of the county’s Public Works Committee, said the county may have to dip into contingency funds in order to foot the bill for the repair work needed to reopen County Highway 31. Using $500,000 now will just about use up the balance of the existing contingency fund, he said.

The same road experienced a similar cave-in three years ago on a stretch just north of where last Friday’s mudslide took place.

Asked if it was possible that design problems could have contributed to the back-to-back incidents, McCarty said, “Whoever would have thought we’d get 12 inches of rain in one month?”

Even if the federal government agrees to declare the 15 counties eligible for relief, Tiderencel said the federal government will want to ensure that the county first puts its own financial resources into making the repairs.

In a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Schumer and Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said the latest flood damage occurred while some regions of New York are still recovering from Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and Superstorm Sandy.

Officials said the counties hardest hit by the rain-driven flooding were Herkimer, Oneida, Madison and Montgomery.

Authorities said several volunteer firefighters from Springfield, West Oneonta and Wells Bridge were deployed to Herkimer County to assist the Mohawk Fire Department, which has been working around the clock since that community was hit with flooding.

Meanwhile, Otsego County Highway 11-C in Middlefield remains closed following damage to a bridge there earlier in the year. Tiderencel said the county estimates that project will cost about $1.3 million, a sum that the county expects to be paid by the insurance carrier for the company whose truck hit the bridge.