SCHUMER, GILLIBRAND, SLAUGHTER, HIGGINS AND BROWN URGE FEMA TO DROP $3M CLAIM AGAINST BUFFALO AFTER MASSIVE '06 STORM CAUSED THE CITY TO TAKE EMERGENCY ACTION
During Storm City Coordinated Response with FEMA Officials; Now FEMA Unfairly Claims City Spent Too Much and Wants $3M from City Taxpayers City's Response to Storm Saved Lives, Allowed Hospitals, Police and Firefighters to Keep Working During Storm Schumer, Gillibrand, Slaughter, Higgins, Brown: Trying to Punish Buffalo for Doing the Right Thing During an Emergency Is Outrageous and Must Be Stopped
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Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Representatives Louise Slaughter and Brian Higgins and Mayor of Buffalo Byron Brown announced that they have written a personal letter to the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), William Craig Fugate, asking the agency to drop its outrageous claim against the city of Buffalo for over $3M. The claim, which stems from the city's response to a now infamous 2006 storm, the 'October Surprise' which nearly shut down the city when trees and power lines were brought down due to high winds, snow and ice. FEMA has recently told Buffalo that it spent too much during the 2006 storm, and it owes FEMA $3M. This claim comes against the city of Buffalo despite the fact that FEMA worked handinhand with city officials during the storm to coordinate a response, approving the city's expenses and reimbursing the city in full for the expenses related to this unusually strong October storm. FEMA's claim comes after performing a flawed audit of the city's actions which did not properly take into account the severity of the storm and the city's superb track record of responding to emergencies.
"The city of Buffalo did an excellent job in '06 of making sure that the storm did not shut citizens off from critical services like emergency medical care and FEMA's actions here are outrageous, " said Schumer, "FEMA should be using Buffalo's response as a model for other cities, instead of trying to nickel and dime them for actions that FEMA itself signed off on. In a time when budgets across the state are stretched thin, the federal government shouldn't be asking for money that isn't warranted."
"Buffalo should not be penalized for its quick and efficient response during a crisis situation that endangered its residents, especially when they acted under the guidance of FEMA," said Senator Gillibrand. "If it weren't for the City's quick response to the Surprise October Storm, the toll on its residents and properties could have been much worse. Local residents should not be left shouldering all of the costs from this storm. "
"To punish the city at this time would ignore the gravity of the situation and trivialize the important decisions and actions that were having a direct impact on the people of Buffalo," said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. "It may be hard to remember just how crippling this storm was for the City of Buffalo. I was proud to work with FEMA throughout the storm and its aftermath to provide the emergency services and cleanup that was necessary. Efforts by the city and federal workers undoubtedly saved lives and prevented further damage."
"FEMA has had no problem collecting millions of dollars from residents in this community through the flawed flood insurance program, yet in our time of emergency need, after following appropriate procedures, Buffalonians are being shortchanged," Congressman Brian Higgins said. "That's completely unacceptable and we are here to fight it."
"I thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, along with Representatives Slaughter and Higgins, for their effort on behalf of the City of Buffalo and for reinforcing for FEMA the reasonable and necessary actions the city took in debris removal following the devastating 2006 'October Surprise' storm," said Mayor Byron W. Brown. "The impact of that storm on the city and our residents was unprecedented and we were required, due to the real threat of the health and safety of our residents, to quickly and efficiently remove tree debris that had brought down power lines, closed off city streets and damaged residential, commercial and governmental properties across Buffalo. Any comparison between what the city faced and was compelled to do as a result of the storm versus what had occurred in neighboring suburbs would be unfair and inaccurate. Simply, there is no way anyone could compare the impact of the storm in the dense urban setting of the city versus the more spacious and uncluttered neighboring suburbs. I urge FEMA to reassess the findings of the Inspector General's preliminary audit findings, accept the unified argument of our Congressional delegation and recognize that the City of Buffalo acted appropriately and prudently in response to the unusual and devastating impact of the 2006 'October Surprise' storm."
In October of 2006, the city of Buffalo was hit with a massive storm that has come to be known as, "the October Surprise." The storm brought a crushing blow to the entire city bringing down countless trees, power lines and nearly paralyzing essential services like emergency medical care and emergency first responders. At the time, the city of Buffalo acted with strong and decisive action to get the city back on its feet and ensure that citizens could still receive emergency services. Buffalo declared a state of emergency which was echoed by the county, state and federal governments. The city worked handinhand with local FEMA officials in order to get critical resources working right away. The unusual nature of the storm required a massive cleanup effort so the city had to hire outside contractors from throughout the country just to get the city back to a functioning capacity. After working with the city during the storm, FEMA approved the city's expenditures and fully reimbursed the city for the costs of storm and the subsequent cleanup. Later on, FEMA performed an audit of the city's expenses from the storm but based their audit on the expenses of suburban Buffalo communities whose cleanup needs during the storm were much different than that of a big city, like Buffalo. The delegation's letter to Administrator Fugate asks FEMA to withdraw its claim against the city.
Schumer added, "Our counties and cities are the first line of defense during a storm or natural disaster so it's important that FEMA is responsive to their needs. In this case, FEMA is punishing the strong and decisive action that the city of Buffalo took in the face of an incredible storm and it's 100% wrong."
March 18, 2010
Honorable William Craig Fugate
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472
Dear Administrator Fugate:
We write to express concern with the FEMA Inspector General's preliminary audit findings concerning the "October Surprise" storm of 2006. Based upon our review of the facts presented to us, we believe that the Inspector General's findings unfairly fault the City of Buffalo's response without sufficiently considering a number of mitigating circumstances.
As you may know, the Inspector General's audit team proposes that the City did not comply fully with Federal procurement standards when contracting for debris removal and monitoring activities. They also determined that the City overspent for the removal of storm debris. The report focuses on the money spent in the suburbs of the City as evidence of this conclusion.
Although the City has endured winter snowstorms of blizzard intensity and with greater measured snowfall, the October 2006 storm was unprecedented because it occurred in midOctober. Autumn leaf fall had not yet commenced. The combination of approximately 20 inches of waterheavy snow on the full tree canopy resulted in general devastation throughout the city. Within hours of the commencement of snowfall, thousands of trees and tree limbs fell, blocking most city streets. Approximately onethird of city residents were without electric power, and streets were inaccessible to ambulances, and to fire and police vehicles.
A State of Emergency was declared by the Mayor shortly after midnight of October 13, 2006 and thereafter his declaration was echoed by the Governor and the President. The immediate need was to remove trees and limbs from the public streets in order to permit snow removal and allow emergency vehicles to pass. Also of immediate concern was removal of hanging limbs from trees, as these posed a continuing hazard to public safety as they could fall on passersby or further damage the electric grid. Restoration of electric and telephone service was essential as nearly all home central heating systems required electricity for operation.
According to the preliminary audit, Buffalo's costs were $3,979,044 higher than contract costs would have been had the City delayed response for a week as was done in the suburbs. The comparison fails to recognize the different and more costly logistics of storm repair in a nineteenth century city as opposed to the logistics of performing such work in a postWorld War II suburb. Wide rightsofway and widely spaced development make the work easier in the suburban setting. Underground electric and telephone utilities in the suburbs reduce the hazards of fallen cables that delay progress in the city environment.
Even without adjusting for the different conditions, Buffalo's prompt action, although somewhat costlier in the first week of the event, was the reasonable and prudent choice for the protection of the public health safety and welfare. Buffalo is the medical and emergency service, governmental, and education center of the region.
The conditions in the City of Buffalo are wholly different from the conditions in the neighboring suburbs. Due to the area's reliance on City services and in the interest of public health and safety, we believe the contracting determination was reasonable and necessary at the time it was made. As you know, the Code of Federal Regulations (44 CFR 13.36(d)(4)) allows flexibility in awarding of grants when "the public exigency or emergency…will not permit a delay." Furthermore, all the decisions made during the response to this storm were made by the City of Buffalo in consultation with this FEMA leadership on the ground at the time. While those officials did raise concerns with other aspects of the response that led the City to adjust its response, no concerns were raised about the debris removal contracts.
We are concerned that the financially strapped City of Buffalo is being required to commit significant time and resources to fighting an audit that we believe is not justified, and we would appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to hearing from you.
Charles E. Schumer, United States Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator
Louise M. Slaughter, United States Representative
Brian Higgins, United States Representative
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