FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 25, 2012
SCHUMER: FEMA MUST STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND GIVE TIOGA COUNTY CRITICAL SUPPORT TO RECOVER FROM TROPICAL STORM LEE — OWEGO APALACHIN SCHOOL DISTRICT HAS FACED REPEATED FEMA ROADBLOCKS IN REBUILDING EFFORTS
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to step up to the plate and improve its lackluster recovery efforts in Tioga County from Tropical Storm Lee. Schumer said the County’s rebuilding plans have met delays and roadblocks at the hands of FEMA. Specifically, Schumer called on FEMA to replace its current Building Assessment Team that has imposed cumbersome requirements on local officials and to swiftly approve the County’s repair cost assessment that is long overdue.
In particular, Schumer highlighted the troubling pace and attention towards repairs in the Owego Apalachin School District, which experienced severe damage to five of its seven buildings during the storm, four of which were rendered uninhabitable. Since the storm in September flooded the region, for which Tioga County was deemed eligible for FEMA Public Assistance, a team of local experts, including engineers and architects, have assessed public infrastructure and the cost for repairs. After five months of this work, the District Team submitted its cost analysis to a FEMA Public Assistance Team that reviewed and validated the work. However, that team was replaced by a different group of FEMA officials that have since imposed unnecessary requirements on Tioga County officials, like repeated requests for documentation of damage to buildings, which only extends the timeline for repairs on these projects. Schumer stated that this is absolutely unacceptable, as the federal government should be helping to move recovery forward as quickly as possible. Schumer, in a personal letter to FEMA Administrator Fugate, urged him to remove this secondary FEMA team, and immediately approve the original FEMA team’s damage assessment.
“Instead of a helping hand, FEMA has thrown up repeated roadblocks in the face of Tioga County and the Owego Apalachin School District’s recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Lee, and it’s absolutely unacceptable,” said Schumer. “Particularly troubling is FEMA’s slow response and attention to projects that would help rebuild the Owego Apalachin School District, which experienced severe damage to five of the District’s seven buildings in Lee, and which the District awaits FEMA sign-off before they can begin rebuilding efforts. After disaster strikes, it’s the federal government’s obligation to help local communities repair and rebuild local infrastructure. The fact that a FEMA team is imposing cumbersome and unnecessary administrative steps on projects throughout Tioga County and specifically on the Owego Apalachin School Districts’ attempts to rebuild its schools and administrative buildings is appalling, particularly after a previous FEMA team validated the damage assessment. I am calling on FEMA Administrator Fugate to remove the team and make up for lost time in Tioga County by prioritizing recovery efforts and approving the District’s cost analysis, so rebuilding can move forward.”
In his letter, Schumer expressed his frustration with the FEMA Building Assessment Team. The FEMA Team is unwilling to push forward with all due speed on meaningful infrastructure repairs to Tioga County’s public structures, like the many in the Owego Apalachin School District, over 7 months after the devastation of Tropical Storm Lee. Schumer is calling on FEMA Administrator Fugate to step up to the plate for Tioga County, and urged him to remove the replacement Building Assessment Team and approve the original damage estimate findings.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter appears below:
April 25, 2012
The Honorable Craig Fugate
Federal Emergency Management Agency
US Department of Homeland Security
500 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20472
Dear Administrator Fugate:
I write today to call your attention to urgent issues facing the residents of Tioga County, New York.
As you know, Tioga County was devastated by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee that struck New York on September 7-8. 2011. In fact, New York State Office of Emergency Management (NYSOEM) projects damage to public infrastructure and facilities will exceed $30 million, with more than 300 projected public assistance projects. Vital public buildings throughout Tioga County were ruined after the flood. These include the Town of Owego Fire Department, the Court House, the County Clerk Building and buildings throughout the Owego Apalachin School District. In spite of the cooperative efforts by elected officials throughout Tioga County there has been unacceptable delays and resistance from a FEMA Building Assessment Team, throwing up road block after road block towards all these important recovery projects. Although all the public buildings have encountered these delays the affect the delays have on the Owego Apalachin School District’s is most troubling.
Five of the District’s seven buildings were badly damaged after Lee, including four that have been rendered uninhabitable: the Owego Elementary School, the District’s administration building, a large maintenance facility, and an associated storage facility. Additionally, the District’s high school and middle school complex suffered substantial damage, as did our athletic complex and playing fields.
The District has spent the last five months methodically and meticulously documenting the extent of damage, providing detailed estimates of the cost of repairs and the potential cost of replacing its buildings. All of this work was carried out by a team of licensed architects, engineers, designers and professionals who are familiar with the intricacies of the New York State Education Department’s building code requirements.
When all this work was complete, this team submitted full documentation to the FEMA Public Assistance team assigned to the school district. This initial team reviewed the District’s submission and endorsed the District’s estimation that the cost of repair compared to the cost of building a replacement building exceeded FEMA’s 50 percent threshold rule. Furthermore, FEMA’s team leader indicated he would support the District’s application for funding to build a new school.
Inexplicably, FEMA’s initial assessment team was replaced with a new FEMA Building Assessment Team. This new team refused to accept any assistance from the District’s group of experts and have repeatedly challenged the assessments completed by the District’s licensed architects, engineers, and industrial hygienists. Instead of working with District experts, this new team demands a seemingly endless list of additional tests and documentation.
The tragic effect of this obstructionism is that the District’s elementary school, which was home to nearly 600 young students and their staff, have been split up and dispersed to temporary facilities in three other locations. This has resulted in an incredible cost burden on this District, but more disturbingly, these repair delays have forced the District to bus five to seven year-old children to ride a bus for over two hours each day.
This is simply unacceptable. At this time, I urge you to remove the replacement Building Assessment Team and approve the original damage estimate findings. This action is vital and will help the people of Tioga County finally take the necessary steps toward recovering from this horrific ordeal.
Thank you for your consideration of this important request. If you have any questions, please contact me or my staff at 202-224-6542.
Charles E. Schumer