New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken the first step necessary in gaining a federal disaster declaration for communities affected by recent flooding.
On Wednesday, Cuomo formally requested that President Barack Obama declare a major federal disaster for New York state.
The disaster area covers 26 counties, including Franklin, Clinton, and Essex. Recent flooding has caused upwards of $25 million in damage in the Adirondacks and across the Champlain Valley.
Additionally, Cuomo wants Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak to issue a natural disaster designation.
Heavy rains and significant snowmelt triggered the flooding near the end of April. Communities like Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake are staring at public infrastructure damage in the tens of millions of dollars, while communities along the shores of Lake Champlain are still waiting for flood waters to recede.
Cuomo says the seemingly never-ending rains and ensuing flooding have caused severe damage and losses in the North Country and other parts of the state.
"While state agencies continue to do all that is possible to assist the impacted areas, I am asking President Obama for federal assistance to help our citizens and their communities on the road to recovery," Cuomo said in a prepared statement.
North Country Congressman Bill Owens says Cuomo's request is part of a formal process the state has to go through - and it brings the state a little closer to federal aid for communities, farms and individuals.
"FEMA's been out to do assessments with state emergency mgt officials. They're doing that, and then there'll be a necessity to file claims, and when hopefully we get the FEMA designation, hopefully that will open a larger pool of dollars to people in the state."
Soon after flooding began, Cuomo requested a rapid joint assessment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Preliminary information from the resulting report shows damage nearing $40 million across the 26-county disaster area. Meanwhile, flooding caused severe damage to private property, affecting more than 1,000 homes, destroying 14, and leaving 218 with major damage - much of which is uninsured, Cuomo says.
The preliminary FEMA report does not include additional damages caused by standing water. In some areas, the full extent of damages won't be realized for weeks, if not months.
Cuomo is seeking implementation of FEMA's Public Assistance program for 21 counties. That program provides municipalities with a 75 percent federal reimbursement rate to help with repairs and debris removal.
Cuomo also wants Individual Assistance aid through FEMA, which helps individuals and households.
Essex, Franklin, and Clinton counties would be covered under both programs.
Additionally, Cuomo hopes FEMA will implement its Hazard Mitigation program, which covers 75 percent of approved costs for local governments that undertake programs aimed at preventing long-term risk to life or property from disasters like flooding.
Cuomo says the state's response to flooding in the North Country was "swift and continuous."
Multiple state agencies chipped in with support for local communities, Cuomo notes. The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision dispatched eight crews to assist with sandbagging in Essex County. The state Department of Transportation, meanwhile, utilized 1,200 people and 150 pieces of equipment in its flood response.
The state Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health also monitored potential risks in North Country communities.
The governor's disaster declaration request also covers several other North Country counties, including: Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, and Warren.