State announces $20M for shoreline homeowners

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, right, discuss Lake Ontario flooding at a press conference at the Port of Oswego Authority earlier this year.

ALBANY — State leaders have announced $20 million will be made available to private homeowners affected by flooding along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

In a letter from Albany officials to local municipalities and elected officials, the commissioners of the Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI) said they were “confident that we can produce projects of great long-term community protection and benefit” through the recently announced initiative.

“The REDI aims to develop a new vision for rebuilding and enhancing the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shoreline from resiliency and economic development points of view, including protecting critical infrastructure and enhancing natural features that support coastal resilience,” read the letter cosigned by Commissioners Basil Seggos and Howard Zemsky. Seggos also leads the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) while Zemsky since 2015 has been president and CEO of Empire State Development (ESD), New York’s statewide economic development agency.

“Together we will get through this challenge,” the letter concludes. “Thank you for your help.”

According to state officials, the $20 million for private homeowners will be largely coordinated at the local level but at present, an application or online portal for applicants is still in development.

Oswego County’s state representatives reacted with praise for the announcement.

“Private property owners affected by this catastrophic flooding need help rebuilding from this man-made disaster,” said Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski.  “I am pleased funding has been made available to homeowners along Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River and I applaud the governor for understanding the difficulties property owners are facing.  This funding will help to fortify their homes and help some to protect from future flooding.”

State Senator Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said it was her hope the funding would provide homeowners “with the relief they so sorely need.”

“In recent months, I have visited homes on the shorelines of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. I have seen the devastation firsthand and talked with countless people who have watched everything they have worked so hard for be destroyed by floodwaters,” Ritchie said. “Since the formation of the REDI Commission, and at numerous REDI meetings, I have strongly advocated for a portion of the announced funding to directly help homeowners, and I am pleased to learn my voice — and the voices of countless others who are being impacted by flooding — was heard.”

Lake Ontario water levels reached an all-time high earlier this summer, resulting in significant damage to many properties and homes along the shoreline.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Cuomo stressed the importance of local governments making local decisions on funding.

"I don't want a lot of bureaucrats in Albany deciding what should be done in Oswego," Cuomo said on WXXI's "Connections." "It's an initiative driven by the local communities and they're going through a planning process where they're deciding what their priority projects are."

Cuomo has often cited high Lake Ontario levels as the "new normal" and urged property owners dealing with flooding to take a long view on the process of rebuilding.

"Rather than spending all this money doing emergency repairs, why don't we just adjust to a new reality and say let's do the work that we need to do, but let's anticipate higher lake levels going forward," Cuomo said. "And that's the resiliency part. If we have to make repairs, let's make the repairs assuming the elevated levels so that if there is another flood level in one year, two years, five years, it's not a problem because we built to it."

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