ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday a program to help communities hit by storms and flooding over the last two years rebuild better than they were before.
Keene and Jay are two of the 102 communities across the state that are eligible to share in more than $500 million through the Community Reconstruction Zone program, which will distribute money from a federal supplemental appropriation Cuomo pushed for earlier this year.
The CRZ program will act similar to the state's regional economic development structure, in which regions around the state create economic development plans and compete with one another for state aid.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, talks with regional press about his plans for storm recovery Thursday afternoon, along with state Sen. Betty Little, left, and Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
The whole idea is for communities to create their own plans for reconstruction because locals know their own needs best. That was the message of a video announcing the program at Cuomo's Building Back Better: NY Rising Storm Recovery Conference held Thursday in Albany.
Cuomo told the North Country press, in a media availability during the conference, that the North Country's response to destruction from 2011's Tropical Storm Irene inspired him to create a plan to get communities invested in their own reconstruction.
"The North Country in many ways showed me this lesson," Cuomo said.
He said communities here were active in planning their own reconstruction and communicating their needs to the state.
He said he was thinking about the conference when he was at the opening of the new Keene firehouse last month. Parts of the last one were carried away in Irene-related flooding.
Little described the destruction she saw in Keene and Jay during Irene, including that state Route 73, the main road in to Lake Placid, was wiped out almost entirely in places. She noted that Cuomo pushed to have that road rebuilt in matter of weeks.
Little said much of the area has put itself back together, but not everything is back to normal.
"It takes a long time," Little said. "There are people that are still trying to recover."
Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said there are areas along the AuSable River that still need work to prevent future problems. Most of the roads there are dirt, so there's also a lot of work to improve stormwater runoff.
He thanked Cuomo for his past support, especially in helping to get money to rebuild his town's fire station. He said it helped his community that Cuomo came to visit several times, and it showed the people there that the state cares about what happens to them.
Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas couldn't be at the conference because he was in Texas for National Association of Counties meetings, but he shared similar sentiments to Ferebee's. Douglas said he is impressed with Cuomo and his staff for their "never-ending assistance as we continue to recover from the (e)ffects of Hurricane Irene."
"We in the town of Jay are so very grateful to Governor Cuomo for including us in this plan of action with the other 102 communities in NYS," Douglas said in an email. "With his administration's assistance we are rebuilding our infrastructure stronger then ever to protect our people, and remove them out of harms way from possible future disasters."
Several speakers at the conference, including Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy and U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun L.S. Donovan, said extreme weather is no longer the exception, with areas of the state being hit hard several times over the last few years by tropical storms Irene and Lee and Superstorm Sandy.
They said the places damaged by those storms need to rebuild in smart ways that make them more resilient to future flooding and other weather-related crises.
Cuomo told the crowd assembled at the conference during his opening remarks about a man he met in Long Island after Sandy wreaked havoc there. The man's house was the closest to the shore in a line of homes that saw severe destruction, but his house had no damage at all. The man had built his house on piers, so it was resistant to flooding. He said people in other areas should think about those kinds of things to make their communities more resilient.
"I'd rather rebuild the house once the right way and spend a little more to rebuild the house than rebuild the house three times over the next coming years," Cuomo said.
Conference attendees included state and federal government officials, local elected officials from across the state, and community members who have helped with rebuilding efforts.
Keene and Jay are the only two North Country communities eligible for funding. Cuomo told the North Country press that the communities included are those that had significant damage in the storms. He said the ones that didn't make the cut should be glad not to be in that boat.
"Are there some communities in the state that had some damage but not enough damage to get on the list? Yes," Cuomo said. "And we're trying to do everything we can for everyone."
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.