By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — AUSABLE FORKS — Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered $6 million in flood-mitigation and strategic-planning funds to Keene and Jay on Wednesday.
The funds are part of Federal Emergency Management Agency appropriations for Super Storm Sandy, he said, allocated to address repairs left from tropical storms Irene and Lee through a program called New York Rising.
Priorities will be set by local leaders.
“What the North Country needs is different than what Buffalo needs,” Cuomo told a group of Essex County officials assembled at the Jay Community Center, where he also announced $1.5 million for Upper Jay Fire District’s new firehouse.
Setting redevelopment priorities, the governor said, is a second — and local — reconstruction step after federal, state and county emergency response winds down.
Every era faces a challenge, the governor said, and the challenge of this era is how we handle the new weather patterns.
“It’s been a constant cycle for me since the day I was sworn in,” Cuomo told the Essex County gathering.
“But every cloud has a silver lining — if you’re willing to find it, if you’re willing to see it.”
All three extreme-weather events — Irene, Lee and Sandy — happened in fewer than three years, he recounted, even though they were known as “500-year events.”
“Does this mean we can expect a higher frequency of extreme-weather situations?” he asked.
“Are we ready for it? Are we smart enough in rebuilding to prepare for it?”
The $6 million total is to be appropriated for projects between the towns of Keene and Jay.
“So when we go through this again,” the governor said, “it’s not as damaging or as severe.”
The program here, as elsewhere in the state, is called New York Rising and is organized through Community Reconstruction Committees.
Jay and Keene each established a five-person citizen committee to sort mitigation and reconstruction priorities.
The governor tasked the leaders with three questions: “What did we go through? What did we do? How can we make it better?”
Keene businessman Vinny McClelland is leading strategic planning sessions in his town.
“We will be faced with a variety of challenges in the future,” he said after Cuomo’s announcement.
“This is a real opportunity to help make our communities be more resilient.”
The Jay committee will meet under the leadership of Scott McDonald.
“It is refreshing to have a state government that gives a voice to the local community,” he said.
The goal, he said, is to come up with a plan that works for the people.
“We will not disappoint.”
State and local planning strategists met immediately following Cuomo’s announcement.
Keene Town Supervisor Bill Ferebee told the Press-Republican that the money is not to be simply absorbed by each town’s budget but has to be strategically allocated for areas of reconstruction.
There remain both large and small areas of concern.
The Town of Jay, for example, has to move its wastewater treatment plant away from the Ausable River.
Ferebee said Keene and Jay were singled out for New York Rising investment because of the repeated damage caused by disastrous flooding.
“I think the governor looked at a lot of different factors — the economic impact that weather events have had, from Main Street flooding in AuSable Forks to Main Street in Keene and Keene Valley. And he asked, ‘What do we do to protect these small towns?’”
The next step, Ferebee said, is to develop a priority list and a strategy for repairing, relocating and remediation.
“We’re going to work with the Town of Jay as if this is a $6 million project. It’s exciting for me, it’s exciting for (Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas). We just want to put the money to its best use.”
‘MOST TRYING TIME’
The New York Rising committees have to have a final plan to Cuomo by April 1, 2014, Ferebee said.
“We’ve got to move forward. This is not just some study to be put on a shelf to collect dust.”
Douglas had assembled most of Essex County’s leadership team, along with fire, emergency medical technicians and council members from both towns, to receive Cuomo’s capital announcement.
Addressing the crowd settled in the old Jay School gym, he reflected on how far those hardest hit by Irene have come in two years.
“Irene was the most trying time in my life, and I’m sure it was for all of you.”
Neighbors helping neighbors erased any political lines or barriers, he said.
“We have to devise a plan to make us more resilient. We have never lost sight that it was all of you that made our job easier,” Douglas said.
Email Kim Smith Dedam:email@example.com