09.25.12

SCHUMER URGES FED & NYS DOT TO RE-DIRECT EXPIRING INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING TO THREE SYRACUSE FLOOD MITIGATION PROJECTS & CREEKWALK THAT COULD REMOVE 100-PLUS HOMEOWNERS FROM FLOOD MAP FUNDS COULD PAVE WAY TO SAVING SYRACUSE FAMILIES THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS

Syracuse Could Lose Nearly $1.2M in Fed Infrastructure Funding -- Schumer Calls on Fed & NYS DOT to Direct Unused Funds to Removal of 3 Abandoned Bridges Over Onondaga Creek & Creekwalk WorkSchumer to Highlight Critical Flood Mitigation Projects, Like Removal of Jefferson Railroad Bridges, Could Remove Over 100 Homeowners From Flood Map Schumer: DOTs Should Allow Unused Funding to Flow Along Onondaga Creek

 

Today, overlooking Onondaga Creek, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on both the federal and NYS Department of Transportations to allow the City of Syracuse to keep a total of $1.2 million in federal infrastructure funding in Syracuse, that would otherwise be revoked at the end of this year under a recent Administration decision. Specifically, Schumer is urging that this unused federal funding be directed to the removal of three abandoned Jefferson Railroad Bridges over the Creek and other improvements along the Creekwalk itself. These bridges have the potential to act as dams during heavy rain fall, narrowing the riverbed and increasing the risk of flooding. Schumer will make a strong case for the City of Syracuse's funding in particular, because the completion of these projects will have a massive flood mitigation impact: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) recently met with Syracuse officials and FEMA and noted that the removal of only one of these bridges would take about 70 homeowners off of the 100 year flood maps. All told, this funding could remove 100plus homeowners from the FEMA flood maps. Schumer's efforts to keep and redirect this $1.2 million federal DOT money for the City will help ensure that all flood mitigation projects are complete before new flood maps are determined, to better reflect actual flood risk.

"The City of Syracuse stands at the ready to both finish the Creekwalk and get critical flood mitigation projects off the ground, and even has the unused money available to get the work done. These efforts would not only put federal funding to good use on jobcreating infrastructure work in Syracuse, but would reduce flood risk and get about onehundred homeowners off the costly flood maps. However, until the state and federal Department of Transportations get on board and redirect that the federal funding to the removal of the abandoned Jefferson Railroad Bridges over Onondaga Creek, those projects could be stuck in the mud for good. That is why I'm urging the state and ultimately the federal DOTs to approve this plan, and allow this unused funding to go to critical use as it flows along Onondaga Creek. Syracuse homeowners, taxpayers and City as a whole deserve support in their efforts to reduce flood risk and ensure that no family is forced to buy skyhigh flood insurance unless they truly need it."

 

Schumer was joined by City of Syracuse officials in his push to retain their $1.2 million in federal Department of Transportation funding and redirect it to flood mitigation work in the City. By the end of the year, NYSDOT must submit a plan to keep this infrastructure funding in New York State, and Schumer's proposal would have this funding stay in Syracuse, but the state must request that the funding be redirected to these mitigation projects in and around Onondaga Creek. Therefore, Schumer is pushing to have these projects make the final cut on the state's list of projects for final federal approval, which will be determined on October 1 st.
 

Schumer highlighted that the $1.2 million federal dollars at risk of being lost comes from leftover money from the Phase 1 Onondaga Creekwalk project, once a pot worth $1.9M. The City of Syracuse has done an outstanding job executing this project, however due to their costeffective planning, this surplus money could be lost at year's end. Schumer highlighted that the city should be applauded and rewarded for their ability to complete work more inexpensively than originally anticipated, and should be allowed to utilize the remaining funding for important projects like mitigation. The City would like to use this unused limbo money to remove one or more bridges from Jefferson Street, and to continue in the next phase of the Creekwalk. While the City has this money obligated to them, state and federal law prohibits them from utilizing it for anything beyond its specific intended use, until the State requests otherwise and the federal DOT approves under a new Administration "use it or lose it" policy for old member items.    

 

The City of Syracuse is in a unique circumstance in regards to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) August announcement that all unused earmark funds by states be reallocated to other states if new deadlines are not met. Schumer stated that in Syracuse's case, the City has completed the first phase of work on the Creekwalk project, significantly under anticipated budget, which is to be applauded. Given that other Onondaga Creek Bridge work could be ready to begin, Schumer is urging that the funding be allowed to be redirected to such flood mitigation efforts, so long as it stays along the creek. Now, NYSDOT must identify the projects they plan to use the funds for by October 1, and must obligate them by December 31, 2012, in order to prevent funds from being reallocated. This puts over $29 million in unobligated Highway funds for New York at risk of being lost if immediate action is not taken to move these important projects across the state forward. These funds have been awarded to New York to complete muchneeded highway transportation projects and put New Yorkers back to work building vital infrastructure.  While Schumer appreciates that some of these projects may not be far enough along in the obligation process to receive this money before the new deadline, it is essential that DOT and NYSDOT work together and with local governments to make sure that important projects in those communities are given an opportunity to utilize their federal funding allocation.

Since Schumer's earlier push to delay flood map implementation in Syracuse, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has worked with FEMA to run an analysis on the removal of the abandoned railroad bridges over the creek. FEMA informed the City that if the bridge closest to the Walton Street Bridge was taken down, it would remove nearly 70 properties from the proposed new FEMA flood map. FEMA also reported that if two other railroad bridges south of the first were also removed, that number would break above 100 properties. Schumer's efforts today provide an avenue for funding the removal of those three abandoned railroad bridges, which have significant hydraulic impact on Onondaga Creek during heavy rain and flooding. Until now, the City of Syracuse has known that such a project would lower flood risk around Onondaga Creek, but simply had no manner in which to pay for the work.

The removal of these bridges would have a real, specific impact on the number of homes remaining on the flood plain. According to USACE, the removal of just one of the Jefferson Street Bridges would take nearly 70 parcels from the mandated NFIP, taking those homeowners off of the flood map. A second bridge removal would exclude another 20 residents, and the third would top the scale, pushing over 100 homeowners out of the zone and thus lowering the flood risk. While Schumer noted that this was not the silver bullet for all of Syracuse's flood mapping issues, the opportunity to redirect funding to important flood mitigation projects in Syracuse would be a critical step in the right direction and is an option that Syracuse officials must fight for, given the uncertainty surrounding the future of these unused funds.  

Schumer's visit today is the most recent in a number of efforts to ensure that flood maps in Syracuse most accurately reflect flood risk to homeowners. In July of 2012, Senator Schumer urged that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) delay implementation of new flood hazard maps for the City of Syracuse until city officials complete critical flood mitigation projects to lower flood risk, that were formally identified in a meeting between the Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Syracuse at that time. In his letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Schumer highlighted that the City of Syracuse has identified at least six flood risk prevention measures, including the removal of the three abandoned Jefferson Railroad Bridges, that could remove homeowners from the latest flood zone in which 892 residents could be required to pay between approximately $250 and $1,240 per year in flood insurance. Schumer successfully pushed FEMA to recalibrate their flood zone data and delay implementation of new insurance requirements based on outdated, inaccurate maps. At that time, city engineers had identified dredging Onondaga Creek and demolishing these abandoned railroad bridge as two solutions that could greatly reduce the risk of flooding in the area and seek time to implement these measures, which can have a real impact on any truly uptodate flood map.

A copy of Senator Schumer's letter appears below:

 

September 25, 2012

 

Secretary Ray LaHood

U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

 

Commissioner Joan McDonald

NYSDOT Main Office
50 Wolf Road
Albany, NY 12232

 

Dear Secretary LaHood and Commissioner McDonald:

 

I write today on behalf of the City of Syracuse regarding unused federal funding allocated to projects important to this community's longterm goals to rebuild infrastructure and mitigate against future flood events. Like so many cities across the country, Syracuse is now being forced to adhere to an administrative decision urging a quick allocation of unused DOT funds or risk losing them altogether. Therefore, I respectfully urge that $1.2 million in funding designated for the Onondaga Creek Streetscape project remain in Syracuse and be directed to the planned removal of three abandoned Jefferson Railroad Bridges over the Creek and continued improvements along the Creekwalk itself.  Under this plan, this federal funding would be utilized to fulfill critical flood mitigation goals for Syracuse residents as well as continue the mission of improving public access along the Creek.

 

According to the City, these two important projects would ensure these federal funds remain allocated to Onondaga creek improvements. The first project involves the continued development of the city's creekwalk endeavor, which creates public space and would maintain conditions around the Onondaga Creek that both encourage public use and prevent nature from overtaking the channels of the creek during heavy rains. The second project is directly tied to mitigating the hazard of flooding and would fund the removal of up to three decommissioned bridges within the creek's channels. These bridges have been identified by FEMA as contributing to a rise in Base Flood Elevation, and thus, their abatement would also remove parcels, in upwards of 100 homes, from a mandated flood insurance zone recently revised in Syracuse - saving City residents thousands of dollars in premium payments.

 

In the numerous conversations my staff has had with your Departments, I understand that your respective staffs want to work hard to keep federal funding in the communities for which they were originally designated. For this reason, I once again reiterate my urging to keep these monies allocated to Syracuse and consider them for the removal of three bridges narrowing the channel of Onondaga Creek and/or additional creekwalk improvements. Again, following a plan like this could also save nearly 100 homeowners in the city from purchasing mandated flood insurance.

Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions regarding my request or require additional information to make a determination about these funds in limbo.

 

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator

 



Previous Article Next Article