TUPPER LAKE - Two top state officials toured flood-damaged areas Thursday and met with local leaders to discuss ways that communities, homeowners and businesses can get funding for repairs.
"We're here to see what you're experiencing and how we can help," state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens told local leaders within moments of walking into the village offices.
Meanwhile, four roads are still closed in Tupper Lake: Demars Boulevard, Water Street, River Road and Raquette River Drive. Village officials said this morning that water levels are down slightly from Thursday. It appears that after eight days the flooding has peaked, barring any major rainstorms in the near future.
Franklin County Emergency Services Coordinator Ricky Provost, left, talks to state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens and state Environmental Facilities Corporation President and CEO Matthew Driscoll Thursday in Tupper Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Martens was in town with state Environmental Facilities Corporation President and CEO Matthew Driscoll, both of whom had toured Plattsburgh earlier in the day. Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, was also in Tupper Lake.
Shortly after arriving in Tupper Lake, the state officials joined a small contingent of local leaders in a driving tour of areas in Tupper Lake that had been flooded. The group visited the shores of Raquette Pond, Big Tupper, Lake Simond and the Raquette River.
"I have to say that after viewing all the damage out there and the affected communities, you can't help but be touched by it all," Martens said. "I'm also extremely impressed by the way the local communities have responded, and I'm very proud of the way DEC staff has responded."
Martens said Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent him and Driscoll to the North Country because he wanted them to see the damage first-hand. They planned to give Cuomo and the state Department of Emergency Services a report when they returned that evening.
"What we really wanted to do is first see it and then hear from the people who have their feet on the ground in the community to figure out what we can do in the state to help," Martens continued. "The governor realizes that this is a lot more than an inconvenience. It's life-threatening in some cases. It has an impact on the economy up here. And the governor's primary objective is to return things to normal as quickly as possible."
Chad Niles, state police emergency management incident command leader, said about 40 homes in Tupper Lake have suffered some sort of damage from the high waters. Currently, five people are staying at a public shelter offered by the Timber Lodge, a local inn. Several businesses have also been impacted.
The main problem for many homeowners and businesses, according to officials, is that very few, if any, have flood insurance.
"Few, if not all, the homes in this community have no flood insurance because none of us ever found it necessary and it is very expensive, knowing what flood insurance costs now," Tupper Lake village Mayor Mickey Desmarais said. "These people are going to really need help because I can't imagine the thousands and thousands of dollars it takes to rip up somebody's floors, replace the flooring. Once the walls get full of water, you've got insulation. It's a huge undertaking, and I don't think anyone individually can take this on themselves. This is really where you need state aid."
Martens and Driscoll encouraged those who have been affected by the high waters to document the damage by photographs and other means.
"Documentation of that information is critically important to provide to the state so that the state can certainly work with FEMA," Driscoll said.
In addition to state officials, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were on the ground inspecting private properties to assess the damage, Franklin County Emergency Services Coordinator Ricky Provost said.
"They started here in Tupper Lake this morning at 10 o'clock and will finish tomorrow, classifying homes as damaged severely damaged or destroyed," Provost said. "I haven't seen any numbers yet, but I know that we have some that are destroyed at this point."
Village and town officials welcomed the help from state and federal officials because they said this is one situation they can't handle on their own.
"Certainly we want to thank the governor and the representatives he sent here," Desmarais said. "We are proud to receive you. Tupper Lake is strong. We are resilient, but we are not shatterproof. As you see, it's taken its toll on a lot of people that have had to move out of their homes. It's taking its toll physically, mentally and obviously financially in the future.
"With that said, we have so many people in this community that have come together to help. The county has been wonderful, the amount of volunteers. We usually can do things by ourselves. As you can see, this is the time we can reach out."