Gov. Andrew Cuomo gestures during Thursday's announcement of $43 million for 31 Lake Ontario resiliency and economic development projects.

At SUNY Oswego, Cuomo slams IJC and promises aid to flood victims

OSWEGO — In front of a SUNY Oswego ballroom packed with local dignitaries and business leaders, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday the counties of Oswego and Cayuga are poised to receive $43 million in state funds to bolster Lake Ontario shoreline resiliency and spur economic development in the region.

The funding, which will cover the costs of 31 projects across both counties, is part of the state’s Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a $300 million project unveiled earlier this year. REDI and the governor’s office are calling on communities along the Lake Ontario shoreline to devise a plan to protect property on the shore from flood damage caused by record-setting high water levels, as well as bolster the local economy. 

Committees comprised of local stakeholders — including city, town and village executives, as well as local business owners — and state department heads were formed to represent the five regions and eight counties affected by the high waters.

During Thursday’s announcement, Cuomo noted the repeated efforts from state officials to aid municipalities in their rebuilding efforts following historic flooding once in 2017 — when the state shelled out more than $100 million in aid — and this year. He added the disbursement of  REDI funds in the region has been a long time coming.

“I believe in every storm you can find a silver lining, and the silver lining here is with this $300 million we are going to be doing work that we could have or should have done anyway,” Cuomo said from the dais at Sheldon Hall. “There was a lot of work to do… so a lot of what we're doing are projects that we needed to do anyway to better the community. We didn't have the access to the funding, we didn't have political mobilization, we didn't have the political support. Ironically, the flood actually did that for us, it generated an attention and a sense of urgency.”

Director of the Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning David Turner praised the state’s efforts to act with urgency in the face of shoreline devastation.

“We really appreciate the recognition from Gov. Cuomo that something needed to be done about the continued flooding of our lakeshore communities,” Turner said. “The ability to build those back bigger and stronger will prevent future problems. We need people who come here to understand that this is always available always accessible and these funds will help us do that.”

The Oswego County project set to receive the most funding is the International Pier transformation, which was awarded $6.5 million to fortify the structure, as well as convert it into a “pedestrian-friendly open space resembling a park,” according to the project’s profile released by state officials Thursday.

Additionally, the refurbished pier will connect the city’s walking trail system, require "minimal maintenance,” and will ultimately aim to attract residents and tourists to the area. 

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow told The Palladium-Times he is “thrilled” with the REDI funds allocated by the state.

“It is a project we wanted to complete for a long time, so to finally be able to take this — which was a bad situation — and turn it into a transformation project, which I think will have a positive impact on the community for a very long time, is really remarkable and I look forward to making it happen,” Barlow said.

The second largest project approved — to the tune of $6.1 million — is the overhaul to Oswego’s Wright’s Landing Marina. The project would entail the assessment of flood damage, redesigning the docks and slips, as well as the raising of areas of the marina susceptible to flooding and creating a new pedestrian boardwalk. On the economic development front, a restaurant and “recreational opportunities” are listed on the project profile as economy-boosting benefits.

“The marina project will do a better job at getting boaters to stop in Oswego and getting people to experience the city in a way they otherwise may not have seen,” Barlow said.

Elsewhere in the county, the town of Oswego was awarded $4.8 million to further enhance its wastewater system, a project town officials have been working on for more than three years.

The project aims to extend sanitary sewage lines from adjacent housing developments and into the commercial district along the lake shore near Fred Haynes Boulevard, according to the project’s profile. The extended waterline would protect property from the impact of septic system backup and overflow and could protect public health from related bacteria and contaminants, according to state officials.

“The emphasis for us is rebuilding and making things better,” town of Oswego Supervisor Richard Kaulfuss said. “It is really important and it is going to help the community a lot. It is going to help the economy.”

Kaulfuss also made mention of the West Lake Road Outfall to Lake Ontario and Lake Shore Road at Snake Swamp infrastructure revitalization projects, which received $400,000 in funding, as projects that will contribute to economic growth in the area.

“We are going to fix some roads. We have roads that get flooded every single year and now we are going to raise those roads,” said in regards to the Snake Swamp project, which proposes raising Lake Shore Road by a half-mile. “We have roads where the water line is subject to erosion and those roads are going to be protected. That is going to mean more growth for economic development.”

Moving forward, local officials said they will await communication from state leaders  on how to proceed with the projects .

“The next step is we’ll get official communication on the individual projects, developing contracts and get authorizations for county projects,” Turner said. “The (county Legislature) has to accept to spend those funds. After that, we’ll go through permitting and consulting and hopefully we can make that happen quickly because spring 2020 is right around the corner and we are hoping we don’t have any high water issues then.”

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