Governor seeks disaster declaration for 3 WNY counties from Christmas blizzard – Orleans not included

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 February 2023 at 5:13 pm

Photo courtesy of Orleans County Sheriff’s Office: The driver of this truck was stranded for nearly 15 hours in the vehicle on Salt Works Road in Shelby before being transported to safety on Dec. 24.

ALBION – Gov. Kathy Hochul announced today she is seeking a major disaster declaration from President Joe Biden for three Western New York counties to reimburse localities for snow removal efforts and other costs during the Christmas blizzard.

The two-day blizzard hit on Dec. 23 but the recovery lasted six days for some hard-hit communities, such as the City of Buffalo. Hochul is seeking federal aid for Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties, as well as St. Lawrence and Suffolk.

Orleans County isn’t included in the declaration.

“We have contacted our federal representative in an attempt to remedy this situation,” said Jack Welch, the Orleans County chief administrative officer. “However, right now we are on the outside looking in.”

Hochul said she is seeking to reimburse those five counties for their snow removal and storm response expenses. The governor is also requesting direct funding to cover funeral expenses and crisis counseling for residents of Erie and Niagara counties. The blizzard took the lives of 46 residents in Erie County and one in Niagara. No one from Orleans died from the blizzard.

The fierce winds left more than 5,000 National Grid customers in Orleans without electricity for extended periods during the frigid cold.

County officials also declared a state of emergency and travel ban due to the blizzard conditions with punishing winds, icy roads and whiteout conditions.

About 75 people spent Christmas Eve at shelters in the Albion and Medina schools. Some of those people were stranded and brought to the shelters by firefighters and Sheriff’s deputies.

The Orleans County Emergency Management Office has calculated the total municipal costs from the storm at $179,123.

The county can count municipal overtime and the costs of running the shelters, but not for snow removal for the streets. However, snow plowing can be included when used to keep open the shelters, the Emergency Management Office and Public Safety Building, said Justin Niederhofer, the county’s emergency management director.

Some of the damaged property was covered by insurance, Niederhofer said.

Hochul said federal aid will help the five counties recoup some expenses from a once-in-a-generation storm. She said the major disaster declaration secures federal aid for local governments and eligible non-profits for debris removal, protective measures, and repairs to buildings and infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment facilities, critical infrastructure sites, schools, parks and other facilities.