KIM SMITH DEDAM Plattsburgh Press Republican
PLATTSBURGH — As the North Country continues the arduous task of cleaning up from Tropical Storm Irene, many hope for a stronger helping hand from the federal government this time.
"These counties deserve the same federal emergency resources that other communities are getting so that they too can prevent injuries and property damage and help minimize further flooding," Sens. Charles Schumer (D-Brooklyn) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Brunswick) said in a joint statement.
"We strongly urge the president to grant this designation and approve New York state's anticipated request as quickly as possible, so that federal emergency crews and equipment will get to these communities in time to prevent further damage."
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Schumer and Gillibrand asked for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Clinton, Essex and 23 other counties.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Keene on Tuesday to see the damage. He said he spoke with the president Monday night and asked for help for Clinton and Essex counties, including aid for individuals, which was not granted to this area after major flooding this spring.
"I don't think that is going to be a problem in this case," the governor, standing next to what was left of the Keene Fire Station, said when asked if the numbers would reach the FEMA threshold.
State Emergency Management Office Director Andrew X. Feeney, who traveled to Keene with the governor, said the process should move faster this time.
With winter some two months off and hundreds of roads, homes and workplaces to fix, there is no time for six weeks of paperwork, Feeney said.
"We are working to expedite this."
Essex County was hit hard, especially in Keene, AuSable Forks and Jay, with more than 100 roads closed and many homes and businesses damaged.
Many Clinton County communities also suffered damage, and two people died when their car went off a washed-out bridge on Devil's Den Road in Altona and into the raging Great Chazy River.
Power remained out Tuesday for tens of thousands of people in both counties.
In addition to providing help for rebuilding by declaring a state of emergency, FEMA can initiate protective measures to prevent more injuries or loss of life.
Warning devices, such as barricades, signs and announcements; search and rescue efforts; construction of levees; shelters and emergency care centers; and food, water, ice and other essentials can be provided.
Later, FEMA can also supply funds for major infrastructure repairs, such as bridges and roads.
Schumer said he would also seek aid from other federal agencies to help individuals, municipalities, businesses and farms.
"The North Country should receive every possible type of federal aid to help rebuild and recover from Irene," Schumer said. "I am going to fight as hard as possible to secure every last dollar to help our communities get back up on their feet again."
Schumer and Gillibrand were criticized by many in upstate New York for not doing enough when FEMA denied individual assistance to people who suffered damage from the spring flooding in May and June.
Victims of flooding could not understand why individual aid was given to those in Vermont while New Yorkers were denied. Under FEMA's formula, Vermont qualified for individual assistance as a small state, but New York, as a large state, did not have enough homes damaged to earn the designation.
FEMA aid was granted to municipalities in New York.
Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) said he believes New York will qualify for aid for this storm because much of downstate was also affected.
"I toured AuSable Forks, and the damage was just devastating. I can't imagine what it was like to sit and watch all of that happen," Owens said.
National reports indicate FEMA is running low on funds, having to deal with 10 disasters this year that cost at least $1 billion.
Republicans in Congress were saying Tuesday that if any more money is to be put into FEMA's coffers, cuts will have to come from somewhere else.
Owens said playing politics with natural disasters is not helpful.
"It is unfortunate that Republicans would really want to hold aid hostage to communities that absolutely need it. If they do that, then I would have to question their motivation. Are they turning a disaster into politics or do they really want to help people?"
Email Joe LoTemplio at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Clinton County snubbed again on individual aid
Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand don't want county to be left behind, like it was in spring flooding.
August 31, 2011