Officials urge FEMA to help flood victims

FORT PLAIN – U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson visited the village Saturday to update officials and flood victims on his efforts to persuade the Federal Emergency Management Agency to release funding to help individuals affected by the June 28 flood.

President Barack Obama on Friday declared 12 upstate New York counties a federal disaster area due to the severe flooding that occurred between June 28 and July 4. The declaration opens up FEMA reimbursement aid for state and local governments, and includes the potential for federal funding to address future flood mitigation projects, but doesn’t include aid for individuals who’s homes have been damaged by the disaster.

The FEMA reimbursement is expected to provide for at least several million dollars in flood clean-up money spent by Montgomery County, the town of Minden and the village of Fort Plain.

Mayor Guy Barton said the trash collection bill for the village alone was $91,000, which the village had to borrow money for in order to pay.

“That price is going to go up, because we’ve got many more truck loads of debris to go. It’s hard to estimate the other costs now because we’ve got water and sewer lines that need to be restored. When we’re done here, it’ll probably be $1 million to $2 million dollars spent,” he said.

Gibson?- whose district includes part of Montgomery?County – said the public reimbursement by FEMA is a good first step to lowering the local taxpayer burden of the flood, but now his focus is on FEMA’s Individual Assistance program, known as IA, which could provide up to $31,000 in federal assistance to individual victims of the flooding, if the funding is authorized.

“Recent history has been that this kind of thing takes some time to get up to the president and his team,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to be highly vocal on this to make sure our national leaders remember that we need their help.”

Gibson provided a copy of a letter signed by all of the members of New York’s congressional delegation to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate urging him to approve Individual Assistance for flood victims.

In the letter, the delegation states that although FEMA typically operates under “a rule of thumb that there be at least 100 destroyed homes statewide to activate Individual Assistance” the only requirement in FEMA regulations is that there be “unmet needs”, and the members pointed out FEMA has authorized IA for disasters with fewer than 100 homes destroyed in the past.

So far, state assessments of the flood damage have shown 45 homes were destroyed throughout the 12-county-area and another 140 homes sustained major damage.

Barton said in the village about 50 buildings have been condemned due to flood damage, some of them multi-family apartment buildings. Barton said his experience with the flood of 2006 tells him that FEMA assistance for individuals will be vitally important to maintaining the population of the village.

“We lost many homes then also. I know people who got furnaces and help with electric; this process does work. FEMA went house to house and did a wonderful job, that’s why we have so many people who stayed in Fort Plain, but I do need their help now because time is running short for many of these people who need to make a decision on what they are doing,” he said. “We need this FEMA Individual Assistance for homeowners so they will stay in the village of Fort Plain. As long as people know that help is coming, they will stay and wait for it, but without that FEMA [Individual] Assistance, we could probably just put a sign on the town that says ‘closed.'”

Red Cross officials said Saturday no one is currently using the shelter set up at Harry Hoag Elementary School, but the Red Cross has continued to provide about 250 meals daily for flood victims and volunteers helping to clean out homes.

Gibson said it will take a combination of local, county, state, federal and private funding to help people recover from the flooding. Gibson also said he wants more work to be done to prevent future flooding throughout the watershed area of upstate New York.

“We’ve been hit by three 500-year floods in the last six years – let’s face reality here. We’ve got to have a state and regional plan for how water moves through the watershed,” he said.