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Local News

July 31, 2013

Schoharie, FEMA squabble over flood relief

Schoharie County is making an aggressive effort to convince the Federal Emergency Management Agency that it made the wrong decision when it opted to only finance repairs to the county’s flood-damaged public safety building, County Treasurer William Cherry said Tuesday.

The county, he said, is convinced that FEMA, under its own rules, should pay for most of the cost of replacing the damaged complex with a new one that would be outside the floodplain.

Standing in Schoharie County’s corner in the debate with FEMA are Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook and Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., as well as Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, and state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, Cherry said. The state Emergency Management Office also supports the county’s position, he said.

“Everyone is on the same page with Schoharie County — except for FEMA,” Cherry said in an interview with The Daily Star.

For the rural county of 32,500 people — many of whom suffered significant losses as the result of flood waters unleashed by Hurricane Irene nearly two years ago — the stakes are high.

County officials have decided it would be far more prudent to build a new public safety structure, which would include a county jail, at an estimated cost of $18.7 million.

The cost of repairing the damaged complex has been pegged at $7.1 million. But if the structure is located within a designated floodplain, as this one is, the repairs must include mitigation measures in the form of floodgates, which would tack on an additional $6.1 million to the costs of the project, bringing the total to $13.2 million, according to FEMA.

Under either scenario — repair the existing structure or build a new one — FEMA would be obligated to pay 75 percent of the costs. Cherry said the state has agreed to pick up the tab for the remaining 25 percent.

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