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Irene left a big mess.  How to pay for the clean-up?  Photo:  Brian Mann
Irene left a big mess. How to pay for the clean-up? Photo: Brian Mann

State tries to figure out real cost of Irene, and how to pay it

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Governor Cuomo and his top aides are still trying to assess the cost of all of the damage caused by flooding from storms Irene and Lee. They're also attempting to figure out how much the state will have to pay, and where the money will come from. In Albany, Karen DeWitt has this report.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

The governor’s budget director, Robert Megna, says the state does have some resources immediately available to supplement the federal assistance anticipated for flood relief in hard hit regions including the Adirondacks, Schoharie Valley, Catskills and Southern Tier. He says the State Emergency Management Office budget has more than $150 million dollars set aside.

“We have significant money in the budget set aside for emergencies,” said Megna. “We think it’s enough to cover the costs that we are incurring.”

Megna, speaking after a cabinet meeting with Governor Cuomo, acknowledged that the increased spending demands come at a time when the budget is tightly balanced, with little room for extras; state agencies have already been ordered to cut spending by 10% across the board. Megna says agencies are being asked to keep close accounting of what they have to spend on flood relief, and to segregate those funds from the rest of their spending.

“Because it’s an emergency, because we’re trying to help people, we’re just telling agencies to go ahead, do the spending they think they need to do. Just be careful to allocate it,” said Megna.

He says agencies trying to obey requests to cut back won’t be penalized for spending to respond to flood victims; in other words, the budget division won’t hold agencies “hostage” over additional flood relief spending.

The state budget director says he can’t estimate yet what the state’s total cost will be, but once that is known, he says he’ll have to put a plan in place to deal with it. He would not speculate on what that plan might include.

Others, including Canal Corporation director Brian Stratton, say it’s still too early to even properly add up all of the damages to several locks along the Mohawk from Utica to Schenectady, though he did say there is “tremendous infrastructure damage”.

“Before we can make a thorough assessment, the water has got to go down,” said Stratton.

Stratton did not rule out borrowing money to repair damages to the locks. He says the Canal Corporation can borrow up to $20 million dollars for emergencies like flood damage. But, he said, no decision has been made yet.

Stratton says the early end to the canal tourist season will be costly. He says it’s estimated that tourism and related business on the canal system is worth as much as $385 million dollars a year.

State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald says crews have been working “around the clock” on over 300 segments of roadway that were washed out after the storms.  She says the spending on overtime and other costs won’t “negatively” affect the existing capital budget and, she added, the state is counting on federal reimbursement for much of the work, but will find a way to pay for the 20% of expenses that likely won’t be covered.

“We’ll deal with that when we have to,” said McDonald who says the top priority now is to get the “system back up and running for emergency response and any evacuation that’s needed”.

Route 73 in the Adirondacks has been reopened, but McDonald says some other routes may take a little longer. Also, she says, some bridges may have to be fixed temporarily, to get through the winter, and then repaired permanently in the spring. 

Meanwhile, new state monies are being allocated to New Yorkers who lost major appliances in their homes during the floods. Governor Cuomo announced that the state’s energy authority is offering $8 million dollars in grants, including up to $350 for a refrigerator and $2000 for a new furnace. 

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