FEMA has denied a request for a major disaster declaration for the state of New York in a response to the July 1 flooding that destroyed numerous homes and flooded communities throughout Oneida County.
A letter obtained by the Observer-Dispatch on Wednesday was sent from the federal agency to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. The letter says the denial was because the damage was not severe enough.
“Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the damage identified in your request resulted from separate and distinct events, none of which were of the severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments and voluntary agencies,” the letter said. “Accordingly, we have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary.”
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said he’d like FEMA Administrator Brock Long to come tell residents himself that the damage here and throughout the state was not that bad.
“I want the administrator to come and tell the people of Whitesboro, New Hartford and Kirkland that the fact that they were washed out of their homes was not severe enough," he said. "I want that to happen.”
Picente called the denial outrageous, saying that the municipalities, county and state already have stepped up to provide relief for their residents.
He said there are millions of dollars in damage in the county, never mind the other 14 counties affected by the storm, and people lost homes, businesses and some lost most everything they owned.
“Our federal representatives show up, promise the world to our residents and can’t even deliver the simplest of assistance to an area that got devastated?” Picente said. “I think the next time it floods, they should either stay home or say they just can’t help."
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, said in a statement that she heard about the denial Wednesday afternoon and is diasppointed in it. She will support an appeal of the decision and continue to fight to ensure that property owners receive the help they need to rebuild their lives following this summer's severe flooding, the statement said.
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, said in a statement he doesn't understand how FEMA could make the determination that the 15 counties in Cuomo's request don't need extra help after the floods. He said he will be strongly urging the state's federal representatives to demand that FEMA take a second look at the application.
“It is simply incomprehensible to me that FEMA has concluded that local residents and municipalities in the Mohawk Valley and other parts of the state do not need additional resources following the devastating flooding that hit our area last July," he said. "Over the last five months, I have heard from many residents who still have not recovered from this storm.”
State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, said in a statement that, "FEMA’s denial of the state’s request for funding is wrong, frustrating and needs to be appealed. ... I am hopeful that the federal government will revisit this decision, reverse it, acknowledge the state’s request and provide much-needed financial assistance."
The state has 30 days to appeal the decision, but still is deciding the next step, said Kristin Devoe, director of public information for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, in a statement.
“Today we were notified of FEMA’s unfortunate decision to deny the state’s request for a disaster declaration following the severe weather, flooding and tornados that impacted 15 counties in New York state this summer,” she said. “Our experts are currently reviewing this decision in detail and evaluating the appropriate next steps.”
It’s been more than six months since severe flooding caused millions of dollars in damage to areas in Oneida and Herkimer counties in July.
Cuomo sent a letter to the White House at the end of August requesting a major disaster declaration for 15 counties impacted by summer storms and flash flooding, including Oneida and Herkimer.
In the months that have passed since the July 1 flooding, Picente said, Oneida County officials have allocated $500,000 for cleanup costs and $250,000 to area households through the Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties.
Picente said he had a feeling that FEMA would deny the request, which is why he chose to allocate $12 million over the next six years to pay for mitigation efforts throughout Oneida County.
Because of that denial, he said he’d like to see some changes within FEMA because now the municipalities, county and state are left to deal with millions of dollars of damage and have to try to fix things on their own.
“Do we have to fend for ourselves?” he asked. “We shouldn’t have to. Which is why I’m going to call on the system needing to be changed and balanced. … It’s very frustrating. Local taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill.”
Contact reporter Samantha Madison at 315-792-5015 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Madison).