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Schumer, Gillibrand ask FEMA for relief after winter storms; local officials say not as bad as Stella

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    Liana Lekocevic/for Columbia-Greene MediaA pick-up truck makes its way down Route 385 in Coxsackie at the height of Friday's storm.
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    Liana Lekocevic/for Columbia-Greene MediaEvery surface in Coxsackie was coated in a white blanket Friday afternoon after several hours of snowfall.
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    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., will bring San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz as her special guest for the State of the Union Address.
March 12, 2018 11:45 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the third nor’easter in 11 days bears down on the region, state senators called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stand ready to help the Hudson Valley in the wake of the last two large storms that hit the state — help local governments would be glad to receive.

The Hudson Valley saw snowfall ranging from trace amounts in Kingston and Saugerties to an excess of a foot of snow in Columbia and Greene counties March 2 — getting up to 3 feet in parts of the Catskills and higher elevations. Between that storm and the storm last Wednesday the region saw more than 30 inches of snow in some areas, according to the National Weather Service in Albany, including some places in Greene and Schoharie counties, which got 40 inches of snow.

Sen. Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, sent a letter to FEMA asking the agency that provides relief following devastating storm events to stand ready if the state and its counties request help.

“The Hudson Valley needs immediate help after winter storms Riley and Quinn devastated communities throughout the region,” Gillibrand said. “I urge FEMA to immediately approve any requests for funding in order to ensure communities can quickly and fully recover.”

In a lengthy process, the state first must make a request for help and then FEMA has to request assessments of damages and expenditures before any funding is allocated. The state must first meet a threshold of costs, $28.3 million, before any localities can receive financial help.

If both storms were combined, Columbia County would most likely exceed its $240,000 threshold the federal government imposes for states and counties to receive financial help from FEMA, Columbia County Emergency Management Director William Black said.

“We are probably way over the threshold, possibly five times over,” Black said. “The first storm caused problems that local departments of public works could not recover from in time for the second storm. The second storm really hurt some areas.”

With another nor’easter forecast to hit the state late Monday through today, local governments in Columbia County could use some federal intervention, Black said.

“I can’t remember having three big snowstorms back-to-back, within two weeks of each other,” Black said. “We would definitely benefit from that money. It would help a lot.”

The storms were not nearly as bad in Hudson as they were elsewhere in the state, Hudson Department of Public Works Superintendent Robert Perry said.

“We spent around $55,000 in Winter Storm Stella. We spent nothing near that this year,” Perry said. “We have had our money requests and paperwork approved by FEMA for six months, but still have not received the money. It takes a long time.”

Hudson was well-budgeted to deal with the storms this year, Perry said, and only 5 or 6 inches of the snow the city saw stuck to the ground. The city spent around $45,000 on salt and about $5,000 on contractors to help in the storm, Perry said.

“We budgeted $100,000 or so for this kind of storm,” Perry said. “If there is a request, we will definitely apply. If FEMA is going to give us money, we could certainly use it.”

Greene County would benefit from FEMA assistance, but it is unclear if the county will meet its $181,133 threshold, Greene County Highway Superintendent Robert Van Valkenburg said.

“We certainly would benefit from FEMA assistance,” Van Valkenburg said. “We are close to using 100 percent of our budgeted salt and the guys have worked a lot of hours.”

Greene County, which is still waiting for FEMA funds meant to help the county recover from last year’s heavy snow storm, easily reached its threshold last year, Van Valkenburg said.

“Communities across the Hudson Valley were ravaged by winter storms Riley and Quinn, and it is absolutely crucial that we get them the resources they need to recover,” Schumer said. “FEMA needs to stand ready to swiftly approve any forthcoming requests from the state for assistance to help these communities recover and rebuild.”