e tunnel under West Street at the Battery in NYC is completely flooded to the top. Photo by Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY staff
By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY, NY-- Still-recovering victims of tropical storms Irene and Lee will see additional relief funds available as part of a federal recovery package for last year's Superstorm Sandy.
The federal government on Friday approved New York's plan to distribute $1.7 billion in grants to rebuild homes, businesses and infrastructure after Sandy, with money available for communities in the Southern Tier, the Hudson Valley and the North County that were devastated by Irene and Lee in 2011.
Binghamton will be eligible for up to $3 million in planning grants for recovery, and the Broome County municipalities of Conklin, Union, Vestal and Johnson City are eligible for up to $5.4 million total. Nichols and Owego in Tioga County could get up to $4.4 million.
Shandaken in Ulster County will be eligible for up to $3 million, and other communities in that county could also get up to $3 million. Stony Point in Rockland County can submit requests for up to $3 million.
"We did not expect a second storm appropriation. We worked very hard to also make Irene and Lee eligible for the supplemental that came about because of Sandy," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference with federal officials Friday. "This is really good news and unexpected news because we thought we were done with the funding we could provide during Irene and Lee."
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the approval, which will allow the state to use $838 million to help fund housing programs and $415 million for business and economic development grants. The funds are part of the $60 billion supplemental aid package passed by Congress earlier this year after Sandy caused major damage in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, who was also present for the announcement, said the recovery package available after the 2011 storms was less generous than what the state will get for Sandy. Many communities hit by those storms did not get what they needed to rebound.
"There were lots of needs that hadn't been met," Schumer said. "There's unfinished business. You can ask some of the folks who were subject to those -- there's still lots to be done."
The grants are part of the federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program, which gives the states more latitude for spending the funds compared to other grant programs.
Cuomo described the spending plan as including both "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches. Federal money appropriated to New York will be allocated to affected communities for recovery efforts. But the localities will also submit plans to the state requesting funding for specific projects.
"These communities not only need to be rebuilt, they need to be restored in terms of spirit and ethic," Cuomo said. "So we're going to say to the communities themselves: If you come together, and you work and you plan together, we will fund your vision of what this community needs to be restored."
Local leaders whose communities were hit in 2011 said they hope to use the money to help residents repair damage to their homes or elevate the houses to above flood level to prevent damage from future storms.
Geoffrey Finn, town supervisor for Stony Point, Rockland County, said many residences along the waterfront in a mobile home park were damaged or destroyed during Irene and Lee, and their owners are still waiting for relief.
"There is a lot of frustration for our homeowners who are waiting for help," he said. "But it looks like this is finally going to happen. We're really excited about the money."
Owego Mayor Kevin Millar said if there is money left over after helping homeowners, he'd like to prioritize repairs of the village's firehouse, which was severely damaged.
He's not celebrating just yet, though.
"We don't have more money yet. We have the promise of maybe more money, which has been this whole process," he said. "Don't get me wrong; I appreciate it, and it's good. But there's still a lot to find out about what we can do with it."