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Cuomo signs $55 million relief package, most going to Lake Ontario communities

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed an emergency relief bill into effect that will aid communities that suffered flood damage as the result of high Lake Ontario waters. New York State is also pursuing additional help from the federal government.

The governor appeared in the Town of Wilson to announce the relief package and ceremonially sign it. Of the $55 million dollars approved by the State Legislature, $45 million will go to homeowners, business owners, farms, not-for-profits and local governments along Lake Ontario.

Homeowners may receive up to $50,000 for repairs that are not covered by insurance. Small business owners may also receive up to $50,000. 

Communities like Olcott, which depend on summer visitors, are feeling the sting of lost business. The beaches have been closed for the season as the result of flooding and shops are feeling the effects. Cuomo noted that many seasonal businesses have suffered, both from damage and from lost customers.

"You have businesses that have been devastated by this flooding," said Governor Cuomo. "You have to remember a lot of the businesses along Lake Ontario are seasonal businesses. They make their money in two months and then they have this flooding. Tourism is down and boating is down and the marinas are closed, and it's devastating."

Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties will receive a share of $10 million included in the overall package. Those dollars will reimburse Southern Tier communities for flood and storm damage dating back to July 2015. Monroe County will also receive a share of this portion as reimbursement for damage from stormy weather this past March. 

Governor Cuomo also announced that New York State will seek additional funds from the federal government, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Stating that he believes the state will tally a storm damage amount that exceeds a threshold that makes Albany eligible for FEMA aid, Cuomo said the federal government needs to pay its share to assist New Yorkers affected by flooding.

"We're going to pursue that aggressively, because I believe this is a federal responsibility," Cuomo said. "We pay federal taxes and they should pay."

Other elected officials have blasted the International Join Commission, a U.S.-Canada regulatory body, for its Lake Ontario management plan, blaming it for allowing the conditions that resulted in such high lake levels.

Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO
Governor Cuomo speaks in the Town of Wilson on Thursday, announcing he would sign a $55 million emergency relief bill, most of which will support those affected by flooding along Lake Ontario.

The IJC's regulatory power includes the control of outflow from the Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dam, which helps control lake levels.  The IJC and others insist heavy spring rains are at fault, not the lake management plan.

The federal government has three appointees on the IJC but Governor Cuomo noted Thursday that one of the seats is vacant. He also pointed out that one of the appointees is from Montana, far away from the Great Lakes. Cuomo is urging President Donald Trump to switch out the U.S. appointees now on the IJC.

"Put (in) appointees who know what they're talking about, who know the Great Lakes," the governor said. "He can do that immediately."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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