Collins, local officials want FEMA disaster request from governor

Photos by Tom Rivers: Congressman Chris Collins gets a tour of Green Harbor Campground and Marina today from co-owner Barb Anderson. The campground in Carlton has been badly flooded for about two months by the high water from lake Ontario. About a quarter of campground remains off limits from the flooding.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 July 2017 at 4:52 pm

Residents, businesses and municipalities need help from flooding, erosion by lake

Some of the camp sites at Green Harbor remain under water.

CARLTON – A campground that has been flooded due to the high Lake Ontario water levels, causing lots of erosion at its beach and a channel for boaters, provided the backdrop today for Congressman Chris Collins and other officials.

They want to see Gov. Andrew Cuomo send an official letter to President Donald Trump, asking for the federal government to declare the southshore counties a disaster site.

That would make residents, businesses and municipalities eligible for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We want aid for the local people but not on the backs of other local taxpayers,” said Lynne Johnson, an Orleans County legislator.

Statewide there needs to be at least $27.3 million in damages to trigger the FEMA declaration. New York seems well past that.

In Orleans, the tally is up to $11 million following 2 ½ weeks of inspections from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. That agency has already inspected damages at 400 lakeside properties in Carlton, Yates and Kendall, said Dale Banker, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

The number in damages is likely far higher because there 2,228 lakefront parcels in Orleans. Only about 25 percent have been inspected thus far by the state.

In Niagara County, the total in damages is up to $21.7 million, said David Godfrey, a Niagara County legislator.

State Sen. Robert Ortt (R-North Tonawanda), State Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R-Batavia) and Assemblyman Michael Norris (R-Lockport) all joined Collins today at the Green Harbor Campground & Marina. They have signed a joint letter asking Cuomo to seek the FEMA disaster declaration. They said Cuomo may make the announcement on Thursday seeking the FEMA declaration.

Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson, center at podium, said the FEMA declaration is needed to bring relief locally without further burdening local taxpayers.

Don and Barb Anderson, owners of the Green Harbor Campground and Marina, said they are strapped financially due to the unexpected costs with fighting the flooding and erosion. They paid $15,000 to have gravel brought in for a road that was underwater – “and we’re not done yet,” Mr. Anderson said today.

They have been pumping water, cleaning debris and trying to get the campground fully functioning. They had to open about a month late for the season, and 23 sites remain off limits due to flooding.

Collins and the local officials said businesses need help to recover from the prolonged flooding.

Collins said a new lake level management plan by the International Joint Commission is most at fault for the high waters. The congressman is pressing the Trump Administration to repeal Plan 2014, reform the International Joint Commission, and fire the current U.S. commissioners who serve on IJC, the binational group (along with Canada) that regulates Lake Ontario water levels.

Plan 2014 moved forward and was approved by the Obama Administration last December, despite outcries from Collins and officials along the southshore of the lake.

The officials acknowledged there has been record setting rainfall in the spring, but they said Plan 2014 has been a contributing factor in the flooding.

Orleans County Legislator Ken DeRoller, at podium, said local, state and federal officials are working together to bring resources to help property owners suffering from flooding and erosion.

State legislators had pushed through a $90 million state relief package for southshore residents, businesses and municipalities. Gov. Cuomo trimmed that to $55 million during a special legislative session last week.

“The governor chump-changed it,” Collins said about the reduced funding.

Collins worries the residents with damaged properties will seek big reductions in their property assessments, which would impact the other taxpayers in their towns, school districts and counties.

Johnson, the Orleans legislator, doesn’t want to see a tax shift due to the erosion and property damages. That’s why she wants to see FEMA and the federal government step up.

The issue has the added impact of likely hurting the sales tax revenues for the southshore counties. Many of the lakefront businesses have seen a drop in boating traffic and other customers due to the flooding.

“It’s a grave concern,” Godfrey, the Niagara County legislator, said about the loss in tax revenues.

In Orleans County, sales tax generates more than $15 million annually for the county. Johnson said reduced traffic by the lake, plus falling gas prices, have county officials worried about the sales tax revenues.

“We’re going to take a hit with our tourism, no question about it,” she said about the high lake levels.

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