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New York State: Storm


ALBANY -- The state's estimated costs for damage related to tropical storms Irene and Lee are approaching $100 million, officials said after emerging from a Cabinet meeting Wednesday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

It's still too early to completely estimate the fiscal impact of the damage, officials stressed, and the figure will be offset by federal aid. And that estimate doesn't factor in the state's share of damages suffered by residents and local towns, villages and school districts.

The number might not be known for several weeks, but this year's state budget contains a $150 million appropriation for emergencies. The impact of the storms are "within the parameters we set," said Budget Director Bob Megna.

"We're still trying to figure out how much it's going to cost us," Megna said, scurrying from the closed-door meeting. "Once we figure that out, we'll put a plan together for how we finance it."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses up to 75 percent of governments' costs, and separate funding streams through the Federal Highway Administration can cover 80 percent or 100 percent of the cost of repairs to most arterial roads.

But this means the state could be on the hook for as much as 25 percent of many repair projects. The $100 million estimate does not factor in the state's share of assistance to local government entities such as towns and villages.

This may be the real cost driver. Some hamlets like Prattsville, in Greene County, were almost obliterated by flood waters, and someone has to pay the remaining 25 percent of the bill to rebuild sidewalks, schools and local roads. Since the affected communities are in some of the state's poorest areas, several legislators have called on the state to pick up the local share as well.

Cuomo has refused to commit to assuming those costs. Budget Division spokesman Morris Peters said the breakdown of the state-local share was still being worked out, and there is no firm estimate of local needs.

A major slice of the state's direct costs are within the Department of Transportation. DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said there were 300 instances of storm damage, including total washouts that closed Route 73 in Keene (now reopened) and Route 103 in Rotterdam (still closed). But "in many instances it was shoulder erosion or guardrails taken off," she said -- damage that's much easier to repair than, say, a washed-out bridge.

"We worked round-the-clock to start to bring them back," she said of the state's roadways. "We are convinced we will get the remaining pieces opened and it will not negatively impact our capital program."

DOT is using emergency contracting authority, McDonald said. It wasn't immediately clear how much money has been spent by the department, and what repairs will be classified as "temporary" -- eligible for complete federal reimbursement -- versus "permanent" work, for which federal funds will cover 80 percent of costs.

"We're looking to get the maximum federal amount. 'Permanent' and 'temporary' can be ambiguous," McDonald said. "We're working with (federal authorities), and they said to track our resources, track our spending, and we're going to seek the full amount from them."

It's unclear if the $100 million estimate includes damage to the Erie Canal, which is technically owned by the Thruway Authority and keeps its own budget. East-west traffic on the waterway is halted by heavy flood damage to locks between Clifton Park and Amsterdam.

Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton did not have a cost estimate, and said his agency still doesn't know if the canal will reopen to let stranded boaters through before a scheduled Nov. 15 shutdown for the winter.

"We're looking at all of the damages, but before we can make a thorough assessment, the waters have got to go down," Stratton said.

He expects the Thruway Authority will issue bonds to pay for damage repairs. It is authorized to borrow up to $20 million for emergency repairs, which Stratton said would be sufficient.

All eyes are on Washington, D.C., where Congress is debating measures that would replenish the coffers at FEMA and the Federal Highway Administration. A standalone bill is advancing in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but Republican leaders of the House will tack an additional appropriation onto a larger resolution to continue federal spending.

New York's representatives in the Senate and House have promised action before the end of the month.

Reach Vielkind at 454-5081 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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