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Without a paddle

Business, homeowners react to not receiving federal flood aid

July 7, 2011
By OLIVIA PEPE and NATHAN BROWN - Staff Writers , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Some business and home owners are more than unhappy about FEMA's latest decision not to aid private property owners.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified Gov. Andrew Cuomo late last week that New York property owners would not get federal assistance for damage from flooding in late April and early May, saying the amount of damage was not enough to qualify.

Government entities will get FEMA aid to repair and replace flood-damaged public works like roads, bridges, and water and sewage treatment plants.

Article Photos

In May 2011, a photograph taken from a helicopter captures water from Raquette Pond spilling over the central part of Demars Boulevard in Tupper Lake during this spring’s flooding. On the left is the Municipal Park and the Sunset Park Motel, top left.
(Photo — Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department)

Cuomo has 30 days to appeal the decision. Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas, who has been in touch with state and federal officials since the denial was announced, said he thinks Cuomo plans to appeal.

The appeal would have a better chance of succeeding if more damage is documented. FEMA representatives plan to visit the area again in the next week, and Douglas encouraged anyone who suffered damage but hasn't reported it yet to report it to their town offices.

"We have to get our numbers up, and that's what we're going to try to do," Douglas said.

New York is classified as a big state, which raises the threshold for federal dollars and hurts the area's chances for aid, Douglas said. Most of the flood damage was in sparsely populated Adirondack counties.

"The amount of population, that had an impact," Douglas said. "It made a difference. We don't feel that's fair for our rural county."

In Tupper Lake, most of the flood-damaged buildings were residences. In Saranac Lake, businesses bore the brunt.

Tupper Lake homeowner Darlene Donnelly said she is disappointed in the FEMA decision because her home was seriously impacted.

"We weren't expecting to get all of it, but even $200 would have been nice to at least show they cared.

"I do understand that the government feels stretched because plenty of other places in the Midwest were hit much worse," Donnelly said. However, she and her husband Pat had to dip into their retirement savings to pay for a substantial amount of damage done to their foundation, wiring, sump-pump and basement. This, she said, has caused her husband's retirement to be put on hold.

Donnelly said her husband had looked at other options for loans because they knew that even if FEMA decided to help, it would take time.

"Mold can't wait; the foundation was disintegrating," Donnelly said. "Those things can't wait."

Even if the decision doesn't get appealed, she said, "You got to keep thinking positive."

Larry Reandeau of Tupper Lake, an insurance broker by trade, spoke of FEMA's decision as being "very miscalculating considering the liberal government in D.C. They're so quick to give it away."

But Reandeau is not concerned with his damaged home on River Road not getting FEMA support.

"I'm fortunate enough where I have a good job, but some of the people on my road are not in the best financial state," Reandeau said. "Their homes are severely damaged.

"If FEMA is truly out there to help, then I can't think of a better place to start than here."

Tupper Lake homeowner Pauline Staves had just retired.

"I've been living out of a motel for the last five weeks and just started renting an apartment," Staves said. "I'm barely getting by from day to day."

The losses at Staves' house included the kitchen she had remodeled not six years ago. She was left to spend her retirement money on ripping out walls, rugs and floors.

"I called my homeowners' insurance, and they told me I'm not entitled to anything because it was an act of God," Staves said. "So I'm paying for insurance that I can't even collect on."

Terry Perrigo of Tupper Lake said he didn't expect a grant from FEMA but hopes for a loan. Based on his knowledge of how the organization works, from years working on highways and bridges for the state Department of Transportation, he thinks there might be another chance for such loans here if FEMA has money left over from diaster areas elsewhere.

"I think it's very unfair," said Gar Munn, co-owner of Munn's Office Equipment in Saranac Lake. "They're not looking at it through our eyes, the little guys."

"I'm out those 15 (flood-damaged) copiers alone, not counting everything else dealing with construction work and materials," Munn said. "I had hope, but now it's gone."

Nevertheless, he said, "We'll hang on; we're survivors."

Like Munn's, Scott's Florist in Saranac Lake was damaged when the Saranac River rose.

"I'm calling all of the necessary offices and people I need to get some help," co-owner Kathy Steinbrueck said. "I realize that we will have to pay some expenses out of pocket, but I was hoping to get some assistance because of the extent of the damage."

Doug Brownell, co-owner of Gauthier's Saranac Lake Inn, said he, too, had hoped for some federal assistance but wasn't too disappointed.

"We've found other loans that we are taking advantage of," Brownell said.

"I just wish the local chamber (of commerce) had more of a voice and contacted FEMA, Representative (Bill) Owens and (Sen. Betty) Little," he added.

Denny Ford, owner of the Upscale Resale antique shop, said he wasn't expecting any assistance.

"If the government was going to help, this would have been the time to do it," Ford said. "It was a terrible setback in a terrible economy to lose as much as I and others did."


Managing Editor Peter Crowley contributed to this report.



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