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July 31, 2013

Schoharie, FEMA squabble over flood relief


Cherry said the FEMA reasoning is “flawed” because the federal bureaucrats are basing the decision on the agency’s so-called “50 percent” rule, which requires it to only pay for repairs when the repair estimates are less than half of what it would cost to build a new public facility to replace on heavily damaged in a disaster.

He noted FEMA’s own rules also require the agency to base its calculations on the the actual cost to repair the building, which must include the mitigation costs as well. If the federal agency were using the $13.2 million figure instead of the $7.1 million estimate, it would realize that the project indeed exceeds the 50 percent rule, Cherry said.

A FEMA official contacted in Washington, Mallory Miller, said she had no immediate comment.

The county Board of Supervisors recently agreed, through a unanimous vote, to have Cherry appeal the decision. The treasurer said he has already hand-delivered the appeal to FEMA officials.

Cherry said it would make far more sense to have the complex built outside the floodplain because repairing the old one — even by adding the expensive system of floodgates — could still leave it vulnerable to another cascade of water during a torrential storm.

The floodgates would have to be higher than the flood of record, which, for Schoharie County, is now the one triggered by Hurricane Irene. But that does not preclude the possibility, he noted, that there could be an even higher surge of water during a future storm.

With the county jail closed by Hurricane Irene two years ago, Schoharie County inmates are being housed at the Albany County Jail, at a significant expense to Schoharie County taxpayers.

Cherry said he is hoping to get an answer soon from FEMA on the county’s appeal so that the county can move forward in dealing with the plan to replace the public safety complex.

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