FEMA funds now starting to flow to repair 2017 flood damage
OSWEGO — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced Friday $1.9 million in federal funds will be coming the Port City’s way to shore up lakeshore infrastructure, following multiple years of shoreline havoc caused by record-setting Lake Ontario water levels.
The inflow of funds marks the first installment in what city officials have called a series of four payments that will eventually total approximately $5 million, secured through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The federal agency acknowledged then-historic rainfall, as well as the record-setting lake levels, after the city hired Vernon-based Delta Engineers in the summer of 2017 to assess the damage to shoreline property, including Breitbeck Park and Wright’s Landing Marina.
In a joint press release issued Friday, the New York senators noted the devastation witnessed in 2017 and its impacts in the community.
“The flooding of Lake Ontario in 2017 and again this year has devastated shoreline communities and recreational spaces such as Breitbeck Park and the regional economy right alongside it,” Sen. Schumer said. “This funding is a critical investment that will help the City of Oswego restore Breitbeck Park and its shoreline, improve its resiliency to future extreme weather events and ensure the lakeshore economy continues to thrive.”
Port City Mayor Billy Barlow told The Palladium-Times Friday the first disbursement will go toward “preventing future erosion” in the Breitbeck Park area.
“We identified four areas of the city that sustained damage and this area needs to be reinforced with more riprap to stabilize the shoreline and prevent future erosion,” the mayor said.
Further enhancements to the area are “critical,” according to Barlow, due to the recently completed Harbor Trail Improvement Project. The trail renovation plan was unveiled in 2016, when officials said the plan was set to “transform” the recreational trail located near Breitbeck Park by removing overgrown foliage and rubble from the area. The trail reopened to the public in 2018.
Barlow added further installments of the FEMA funds would go toward amending streetside and shoreline infrastructure in the areas near Wright’s Landing Marina, International Pier, West Linear riverwalk and the Shore Road shoreline.
“The FEMA funding is for repair work, so it will include rip rap to replace washed away shoreline, repair buckled sidewalks, install sheet piling where the land was washed away and help re-pave areas and fix drainage,” he said.
The federal disaster relief aid also joins the city’s application to be a recipient of $15 million in funds through the state’s Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI). The initiative was announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in late May, as lake levels were steadily rising toward a new all-time high, and is scheduled to direct $300M in state funding for localities ravaged by flooding to fortify their shorelines, as well as invest in economic development projects.
The city submitted an application that blended the two components in early August, guided in large part by a waterfront master plan established in 2016 and 2017 with public input.
City officials told The Palladium-Times in August the city is prioritizing “transforming the International Pier” into what they called a “boardwalk atmosphere,” as well as moving the docks from the east portion of the pier to the west side of it, thus protecting them from heavy wave action.
Wright’s Landing Marina would also receive improvements in the way of a boardwalk along the western end, as well as an enhanced pavillion and an additional fire pit on the west side of the marina. The nearby kayak and paddle boat launch would also be filled, creating a seawall in the area to curb future flooding, officials said.
The city also requested funding to construct a seasonal restaurant and bar on the hill bordering the southern boundary of the marina
“We designed our REDI application to work around, and not duplicate our FEMA declaration,” Barlow said. “Simply put, our FEMA funding will repair the damage that has been done. Any REDI money we receive will be used to prevent more damage from occurring and will be used for improvement projects to our shoreline and marina.”
Barlow also praised federal and state government officials for “doing their best” in making funding available for localities, but noted the “real problem is going untouched.”
“The regulation of the water level isn't changing,” Barlow said.
The mayor called on the International Joint Commission (IJC) — a binational board overseeing waterways shared between the U.S. and Canada — to revise current water regulation strategies.
“The IJC needs to change the plan,” he said in reference to Plan 2014, the current water regulation plan implemented in 2017. “Even with this dry spell lately, water is still higher than normal. If they don't pay attention and don't change their mindset going into the fall, they will fail to sustain required outflows this season and through the winter, and will set the stage for another disastrous spring.”