FOLLOWING RECENT EVENT IN KINGSTON, SCHUMER ANNOUNCES FEMA HAS HEEDED HIS CALL & UPDATED ITS SINKHOLE POLICY, WHICH WILL FINALLY PAVE WAY FOR KINGSTON TO APPLY FOR FED FUNDING TO FIX PREVIOUSLY DENIED DOWNTOWN SINKHOLE – SCHUMER VOWS TO PUSH FOR APPROVAL, OR CITY COULD BE ON THE HOOK FOR MORE THAN $7 MILLION IN REPAIRS
City of Kingston Sinkhole Has Kept Section of Washington Ave. Closed For Over 3 Years, Inconveniencing Drivers & Residents, And Hurting Downtown Development – City’s Repair Costs Could Be $7 Million or More & Place Hefty Financial Burden on Taxpayers Kingston
To Advocate for City of Kingston, Schumer Pushed FEMA to Update Policies in Order to Cover Sinkhole Damages, Which Are Often Too Expensive For Many Local Governments To Pay – Because Major Weather Events Like Irene Exacerbate Sinkholes, Schumer Said FEMA Funding Should Help Mitigate Future Disaster Impacts
Schumer: Sinkholes May Eat Through The Ground But They Should Not Eat Through A City’s Budget – Now, Kingston Can Apply for Federal Funding to Fix Sinkhole; Vows to Fight Tooth & Nail for Approval
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has revised its policies to make sinkholes eligible for FEMA Hazard Mitigation funding, which provides funding to municipalities for disaster mitigation expenses. FEMA has no record of funding sinkhole repairs under its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) or its Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) Grant Program, and it was unclear whether sinkhole repairs could be eligible for the funding. However, Schumer recently pushed the agency to reverse course and update its policies, citing the devastating sinkhole in downtown Kingston that has closed streets and inconvenienced drivers and residents for years after being exacerbated by Hurricane Irene. Schumer said the sinkhole is slated to cost over $7 million to repair and could place a hefty tax burden upon residents in the absence of federal help. While Schumer said the City of Kingston must still apply for this funding, revising FEMA’s policies was a critical step in the right direction to getting this sinkhole repair funded. Now, Schumer said, the groundwork has been paved that will make Kingston eligible to apply for and hopefully receive this funding.
In a visit to Kingston in April, Schumer urged FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to consider allowing cities and municipalities to apply for federal funding to alleviate the financial burden on cash-strapped local governments. Under the revised policies Kingston and other communities affected by sinkholes would be able to apply for federal funding to fix the sinkhole and reopen the previously closed streets in the downtown area.
“Following our event in Kingston FEMA heard our call loud and clear and have officially changed their sinkhole policy. Now we must push FEMA to approve Kingston’s long-denied application for money to repair this debilitating sinkhole so local taxpayers are not left holding the bag for paying for a natural disaster that was far beyond their ability to control,” said Senator Schumer.
Schumer added that, “Because FEMA was unclear on its own policy regarding reimbursements for sinkhole repairs, it failed to provide any city with the funds necessary to rebuild following these incidents; that will not be the case anymore, as communities can now apply for this critical federal funding. A precedent should be set here and now for providing the kind of funding that is vital following a sinkhole as devastating to the community as the one on Washington Ave – so I will be fighting tooth and nail for FEMA to approve the City of Kingston’s application for these funds as soon as it hits their desk.”
Schumer explained that, in March of 2011, the City of Kingston’s Department of Public Works responded to a sinkhole that had opened on the west side of Washington Avenue. While initial repairs were made shortly thereafter, the sinkhole, measuring two to three feet in diameter and seven feet in depth, re-formed just a year later. Following the reopening of Washington Ave, the City monitored the settlement conditions of the road from July 2011 through March 2012. However, during this 8-month period, the region experienced the wrath of Hurricane Irene. Schumer said while there is no single factor that causes a sinkhole to appear, they can be exacerbated by storms and flooding, like the kind that Ulster County experienced during Hurricane Irene.
Schumer said this sinkhole has had a significant impact on the City of Kingston and surrounding communities. Since the sinkhole reopened three years ago, the section of Washington Ave has been closed between Linderman Avenue and State Route 32. As a result, this has caused serious disruptions in travel and greatly inconvenienced residents, who have had to alter their travel plans over the past three years to avoid the sinkhole. It also hurts local businesses. Traffic is still currently being redirected through Clinton Ave because this sinkhole has made the section of Washington Ave no longer safe for vehicular traffic. In addition, this sinkhole has caused complications at the wastewater treatment plant due to high levels of sediment. Schumer said this is alarming because Washington Ave serves as a critical sanitary and storm water passageway for much of the City, including the entire Washington Avenue corridor and Uptown area.
Despite the danger, public health concerns, and general inconvenience this sinkhole has posed to the community, the City of Kingston has been unable to secure sufficient federal funding to cover repair costs. The lack of federal funding has made financing repairs difficult for the City to afford. Without federal help, the city and its taxpayers would have to shoulder a very high cost for repairs. City officials have said that the cost of repairs to the sinkhole and rebuilding the section of Washington Ave to guard against future flood and storm water threats would cost the City at least $7 million. Right now, they are accepting bids for contractors to fully repair the sinkhole, but Schumer said a FEMA reimbursement should be an option on the table, but currently is not. Schumer said $7 million is an exorbitant amount of money for a small city government.
As a result, Schumer had urged FEMA to update its policies to make sinkholes eligible for FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) funding, which are used to reimburse municipalities for disaster mitigation expenses. FEMA recently heeded Schumer’s call, determining that eligible activities under these grant programs include acquiring and relocating or demolishing property for the purpose of open space for structures subject to sinkhole hazards. In order to be eligible, structures must have already been affected by the sinkhole, and the community needs to prove that the cause of structural damage is related to a sinkhole and is at least partially due to a natural geologic process.
Schumer had previously secured $1.12 million in federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) Disaster Relief Opportunity funds for infrastructure repairs to restore access to commercial and small businesses in the Kingston city center around the sinkhole, however $7 million was still needed to cover the remainder of the repair project. Schumer said Kingston will now be eligible to apply for the $7 million needed to fix the sinkhole. Prior to the policy change announced today, the City of Kingston’s request for sinkhole repairs funds was denied by FEMA.
A copy of Schumer’s initial letter to FEMA Administrator Fugate appears below:
Dear Administrator Fugate
I write to urge FEMA to update their policies regarding eligibility for Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) to make sinkhole repairs eligible for federal funding under those programs.
As you know, while there is no single factor that causes a sinkhole to appear, sinkholes can be exacerbated by storms and flooding, and have significant impacts on communities. For instance, the Washington Avenue sinkhole in Kingston, New York opened in spring 2011, and while initial repairs were made, the sinkhole, measuring two to three feet in diameter and seven feet in depth, re-formed a year later. The section of Washington Avenue has been closed since then, and the sinkhole also caused temporary disruptions in utilities in the area, in addition to causing complications at the wastewater treatment plant because of high levels of sediment.
I realize that FEMA has no direct experience providing funding for sinkhole repairs under the Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs. However, it seems clear that certain sinkhole repairs could be well-aligned with the goals of the Pre-Disaster Mitigation and Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs—in many cases, these repairs will reduce the risk to individuals and property from natural disasters while also reducing reliance on future federal disaster funding. Because current guidelines are unclear, I urge you to update the eligibility requirements for PDM and HMGP funding to make it clear that sinkhole repairs can be eligible expenses under those mitigation programs, provided they meet other program requirements.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request. Should you have any questions or need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me or my office.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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