FEMA may pay to rebuild but not move flood-ravaged sheriff’s office
By Rick Karlin
November 26, 2013
Here’s a dilemma that state and local officials are facing in the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Irene which swept through the Mohawk Valley in 2011. Efforts to move the Schoharie County jail and sheriff’s office, which is in a flood plain in the Village of Schoharie, are stalled amid a dispute over whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for moving the entire structure to higher ground rather than simply rebuilding it.
“The real solution for us … is to get some additional funding which is available through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to remove the facility (from its current location),” Andrew Feeney, a deputy commissioner at the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services said Tuesday during a hearing about “Risk Mitigation” following Superstorm Sandy as well as Irene and Lee.
Feeney later said that FEMA is willing to pay about $14 million to repair and harden the 23-year-old facility but for another $4 million they could simply move it to a new location on higher ground.
Getting to that point is difficult, though, due to the tangle of rules regarding federal flood recovery expenditures.
The hearing was before the Assembly committees on governmental operations and local governments. Lawmakers exhibited some verbal head-scratching over the feds’ unwillingness to move the country structure out of the flood plain.
“FEMA will rebuild but not relocate the jail?” asked Assemblyman Steven Englebright, a Long Island Democrat.
Contacted in Schoharie, county Treasurer Bill Cherry said that’s exactly the case, due to what they call the “50 percent rule.”
Basically, that means if the cost to fix it is less than half of the value — in the case estimated at $18 million, FEMA pays for a fix but not a new building in a different spot.
“Somebody in a cubicle in Washington D.C. somewhere checks the box that says under our regulations they just rebuild it,” a frustrated Cherry said.
Part of his frustration stems from the fact that the jail portion of their public safety building remains unusable. They are paying $1 million annually to house prisoners at the Albany County jail a good hour away.
And much of the public safety building is empty — more than two years after the flood — with the second floor employing space heaters, and the EMS people operating in borrowed space in nearby Cobleskill.
Cherry said Sen Chuck Schumer has pushed FEMA to fork over the extra $4 million for a new location and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is planning to send a delegation to FEMA to make the case, as well as discuss other post-Sandy and post-Irene needs.
He noted that the building was not in the flood plain when it went up in 1990 but the maps have since changed, with an expanded flood plain in the village.