Flood project concerns discussed

Randall Young, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, discusses the next steps for carrying out projects funded by the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative. Marcus Wolf/Watertown Daily Times

ALEXANDRIA BAY — Local officials with questions about shoreline resiliency projects throughout the north country have asked the state how to address their concerns over the timing of financing and construction.

The state awarded waterfront communities in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties $60 million through the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative earlier this month. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo created the $300 million initiative, also known as REDI, to help fund infrastructure projects in waterfront cities, towns and villages that bolster their defense against future flooding and generate economic development.

High water levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River flooded homes, submerged docks and inundated and eroded shorelines across the state.

In an effort to carry out projects awarded REDI money as soon as possible, the state has invited local officials to a meeting Wednesday in Albany to sort out any obstacles and trepidations. Before hosting the Albany meeting, state representatives, including Kimberly Harriman, vice president of New York Power Authority, and Randall Young, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, met with north country officials to provide general information about the next steps and field questions. Some received answers, while others may have to wait until Wednesday.

“I fully believe if we work together, we’ll find a path forward to complete these projects,” Ms. Harriman said.

Jefferson County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III sought additional information about the deadline for completing REDI projects. Mr. Young said with estimates from O’Brien & Gere, an engineering and construction firm the state hired for the REDI initiative, some projects should be completed in one year, others in two, but “there is an expectation that these projects will be moving forward.”

Ms. Harriman said state and local officials should try to stick to the time frames for each project, but state officials understand that unforeseen hurdles may arise.

St. Lawrence County Legislative Chairman Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, asked whether the state could help communities maneuver through the permitting processes faster to meet the deadlines for their REDI projects. The chairman said the approval process from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been “really slow in their deliberations.” Ms. Harriman said the state will push the federal agencies as fast as possible, and they may have to kick off multiple permitting processes at once. The Army Corps has also been informed of the REDI projects, she said.

“The governor has made it very clear the (state) agencies are going to move these projects along and get them implemented. There’ve been agencies assigned to each project to shepherd them through the process ... to make sure it gets implemented in a timely way,” Mr. Young said.

Local officials also inquired about whether other funding opportunities would be available for REDI projects, with some fearing they may accrue more expenses than they expected.

Mr. Lightfoot said he does not believe the county can replace the bridge over Northumberland Street in Morristown with only $2.1 million, and questioned what would happen if local governments exceeded their budgets. Mr. Hagemann said some communities may have only rough estimates of projects generated fast to apply for the REDI money, and the funds awarded by the state may fall short of actual project costs.

Both Mr. Young and Ms. Harriman said they will need to seek additional clarification before Nov. 20, but Ms. Harriman added that local leaders must continue to communicate with the state.

“You’re not the only community who’s asked that question,” Ms. Harriman said.

Another facet of the program that drew inquiries from officials was that local governments would have to pay for a small portion of the bills for projects geared toward helping businesses.

Of the $300 million the state has allocated for the REDI initiative, $235 million was allocated for municipal government infrastructure projects, $20 million has been earmarked for homeowner assistance, $30 million has been allocated for business resiliency projects and $15 million has been set aside for a regional dredging effort.

Stephen Hunt, regional director for Empire State Development, said for any financial award a business receives from the REDI initiative, the municipality it resides in must pay 5 percent of the amount of that award. Funding for businesses has not yet been distributed and the application is not yet available, Mr. Hunt said. Each business will be able to apply for an amount equal to 50 percent of its project, but no more than $200,000.

When asked about how the local governments could provide their 5 percent match, Mr. Hunt said they could provide property or sales tax relief, among other measures. Jefferson County Legislature Chairman Scott A. Gray said he wants more details about the 5 percent contribution because the local industrial development agencies will need to become involved.

“We’re going to have to find out how this is all going to have to be administered,” Mr. Gray said about the REDI funding.

Norma J. Zimmer, mayor of the village of Clayton, said she was worried not enough contractors would be available. Ms. Harriman said she will work with the state Department of Labor, trade groups and other partners to pinpoint any other resources that could help with executing the projects.

“We’re going to look at every option that’s on the table,” she said.

Out of all five regions REDI supports, the region that encompasses the two north country counties will receive the most funds for the most projects. Niagara and Orleans counties, which make up one region, were awarded $49 million for 20 projects; Monroe County was awarded $43 million for 33 projects, Wayne County was awarded $41 million for 10 projects, and Cayuga and Oswego counties, which also encompass one region, were awarded $43 million for 31 projects.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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