Senator James L. Seward (R,C,I-Oneonta) and Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R,C,I-Schoharie) joined local officials from Schoharie County and others to hold a press conference today at the Prokop family’s farm, Crossbrook Farm, in Middleburgh. The coalition detailed local flood recovery projects in Schoharie County, particularly along the Line Creek (which adjoins Crossbrook Farm), and discussed the recent funding awards obtained by the state legislators with Governor Cuomo’s office.
Senator Seward said, “In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, the priority is on restoring lives and making the repairs needed to ensure our communities are safe, next comes preparing for the future. I commend Governor Cuomo and state officials on the initial response following Irene and Lee and appreciate the continued attention to flood stricken areas. These grants will help shore up our streams and waterways, protecting homes and businesses for years to come without burdening local governments and taxpayers.”
“These streams are a ticking time bomb,” said Assemblyman Lopez, who represents seven counties in the Mid-Hudson, Northern Catskills, and Southern Tier regions – all of which were profoundly impacted by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. “Even as we worked like field medics to take care of our neighbors, people who were reeling in the wake of the storms, we knew we had to get into these streams to keep more people from being hurt. Senator Seward and I continue to work hard with Governor Cuomo, our local officials, Congressmen Gibson and Tonko, and our other federal representatives to protect life and property.”
As the one year anniversary of the floods approaches next month, both state legislators joined Governor Cuomo last week to announce $9 million in flood mitigation and control grants they had helped secure for the counties they represent. The funding will come through the NY Works program and will assist flood recovery, in terms of streambed cleanup and restoration projects, in 23 counties across the region. Additionally, thanks to the efforts of Senator Seward and Assemblyman Lopez, the Governor is also providing $7 million (from funding remaining after the 2011 special session flood recovery appropriations) to offset counties’ 25 percent non-federal match requirements. Coupled with another $44 million in federal and local funding, that the Governor’s office announced last week, emergency watershed protection and flood reduction projects now have the necessary funding to become closer to completion.
“Restoring streams will go a long way to minimize damage from future storm events,” said NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens. “Working with DEC, local communities will now have the needed funds to prevent future damage to property, infrastructure and the environment.”
Following back-to-back Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in August 2011, widespread flood and catastrophic property damage was felt in communities throughout the state, and most acutely in areas represented by Senator Seward and Assemblyman Lopez. While each of these counties received funding through this announcement, Schoharie County, which had suffered widespread destruction throughout the county, received over $5.3 million (a complete list of funded projects by county is available at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/79243.html).
“There are many in our community who believed this day would never come. Some people didn’t believe the voices in Schoharie County would be heard. Schoharie County is grateful for the continuing partnership with the State of New York as we recover from a flood of record,” said Schoharie County Board of Supervisors Chairman Harold Vroman. “None of this would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Senator Seward and Assemblyman Lopez. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank the Governor for never forgetting the great amount of need we have in Schoharie County.”
“This is an important announcement that continues to exemplify the partnership between New York State and its municipalities.” said Alicia Terry, Director of Schoharie County Planning and Development. “The State has generously stepped up to the challenge for those struck hardest by the disasters of Irene and Lee. As we prepared the needs assessment for the State that showed over $83 million of gaps in recovery funding, it was hard to imagine how governments, businesses, farms and homeowners were going to find the resources to heal. This is another large step in our return to a new normal from the floods of record.”
In Schoharie County the challenge was made more intense as county and local officials found their operations totally disrupted with flood waters continuing to sweep though their communities. The instant challenge was to try to make some order out of the chaos around them, even as they worked to protect the community from more damage.
Working from a makeshift Emergency Operations center in the state Department of Transportation (DOT) Field Office in Cobleskill, early efforts were made by the state legislators to assemble a “stream team” comprised of state agencies including the DOT and DEC along with Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation District, and federal agencies, including FEMA, SEMO and NRCS, to begin an assessment of conditions – particularly around roads, bridges and other public structures.
In September 2011, Senator Seward and Assemblyman Lopez called for more intense support for the public from the Governor’s Statewide Flood Recovery Task Force, headed by Matt Driscoll of the Environmental Facilities Corporation and New York State Agriculture and Markets’ Commissioner Darrel Aubertine. This work dovetailed with the efforts of federal representatives seeking to maximize the availability of federal funds through the FEMA, NRCS, Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP), Emergency Conservation Protection (ECP) and other sources to advance critical work throughout the region.
Even as attention was given to road, bridge and other infrastructure repair, as well as obtaining and securing safe emergency shelters, among a host of other issues, the team continued its work by visiting and evaluating sites and informing local officials of available resources. In the December 2011 special session, Senator Seward and Assemblyman Lopez partnered with the Governor to pass an emergency appropriation for emergency stream stabilization projects.
Throughout the 2011 winter holidays, the state legislators continued to meet with the “stream team,” tour sites, and meet with officials from various state and federal agencies and to assist communities’ recovery efforts. A meeting was held with DEC officials to discuss the legislators’ concerns about the conditions of stream channels and the dire need for intensive restorations to prevent further damage during potential spring runoff. The lawmakers also requested that Schoharie County Water and Soil Conservation District join them in lobbying state and federal officials for the urgency of streambed clearing and restoration projects, including the Line Creek. In addition to this detailed letter, 63 landowners on Mill Valley Road wrote and sent a 3-page letter detailing their experience during the floods and concerns about the stream’s instability.
By March 2012 the “stream team” assembled by Senator Seward and Assemblyman Lopez also included United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (who provided $31.5 million in funding) as well as the region’s congressional representatives and more than two dozen other officials. While general flood recovery funding was also provided through the 2012-13 State Budget, the team continued to solicit assistance for the 25 percent local share of costs not provided by FEMA or other agencies. By May, it became clear to Schoharie County officials that the county, still devastated by the flood damage, economic recession and facing the two percent property tax cap limitations, would be unable to meet these necessary recovery costs.
Senator Seward and Assemblyman Lopez continued to play a central role in pursuing every avenue to help Schoharie County (as well as the other counties they represent) obtain the funding for these projects. Fortunately, the mild winter prevented extensive spring runoff complications (as had been seen during the 2006 floods that swept through the region). However, many waterways in Schoharie County, including Line Creek, still posed a real threat to residents and farms along its banks, as well as the community at large.
This nearly yearlong effort by the Senator and Assemblyman culminated in the announcement made last week that the Governor has appropriated funds to cover the 25 percent local share. In Schoharie County’s case, this funding will cover nearly their entire share (which is roughly $6 million). This funding will allow Schoharie County to begin stream recovery projects, including along Line Creek, among roughly a dozen other high-needs projects including along Little Schoharie Creek.
“As a Schoharie County resident and farmer I am very grateful for the time and talents of the full team from every level of our system that has worked on this far-reaching project,” said Sandra Prokop, area farmer, co-owner of Crossbrook Farm, and member of the New York Farm Bureau. “The repair and maintenance of our infrastructure is a ‘fix’ versus a band-aid. This project will most certainly help to relieve the ever-present stress over safety, protection from potential losses of livelihood as well as loss of life.”
Sandra Prokop continued, “Wearing my NYFB staff hat, as well as that of a member, this renewal process demonstrates the efforts of everyone on every level. This funding allows the recovery and rehabilitation that is essential for the future. Recovery is a group effort, and the positive support from the Governor, the State, the Localities and the many agencies and organizations have allowed our communities to heal.”
The project at Line Creek, intended to protect the residents along Mill Valley Road (including the Prokop farm), is one of many that will result from the award of the state and federal funds. It is the goal that projects will use new approaches that should minimize the impact of potential future flood events.
“We saw this as an opportunity to use a natural channel design approach to provide a more sustainable fix to some of our stream issues rather than a temporary band-aid, waiting for the next flood to tear it apart and bring us back to square one,” said Pete Nichols of the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation District. “These projects will be unprecedented in Schoharie County history by using proven stream science to protect our local stakeholders and farming community from imminent risk and economic harm.”
For example, efforts will be made to recreate the natural curves of the stream to help control water speed and promote stability, like a skier on a downhill slope. In addition, riprap (bank armoring) will be used to protect erosion prone sections, and efforts will be made to reconnect the stream to its traditional floodplain, taking more energy out of the stream, especially in high water events.
Peter Wright, State Director of United States Natural Resources Conservation Service, said, “I am excited the federal, state and local partnership can produce a lasting fix to the extreme damage Schoharie County and the region experienced. This is an example of where the Emergency Watershed Protection program can help the communities heal.”
“All of us are single-mindedly dedicated to bringing our communities back from the devastation of Irene and Lee,” said Assemblyman Pete Lopez. “We will continue our efforts to safeguard the public, rebuild our economies and insure a productive future for the people of the region.”