Mohawk Valley floods bring federal buyouts state mitigation efforts

New York News

WHITESBORO, N.Y. (WUTR) — Construction will soon start on a $3.9 million dollar flood mitigation project in the Mohawk Valley. Officials gathered at the Whitestown Community Center earlier this month to announce what they hope will help protect businesses and residents from future floods.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but the start of every project is one step closer to doing everything we can to become more resilient to severe weather events, reduce flooding, and minimize future loss,” said Whitestown Supervisor Shaun Kaleta.

New York State and Whitestown will build new floodplain benches and culverts to reduce flood water elevations and increase water flow from the Sauquoit Creek to the Mohawk River. “This project shows that when we all work together and take a comprehensive approach to problem solving, even challenges as daunting as climate change and extreme weather can be addressed,” said Marie Therese Dominguez, State Department of Transportation Commissioner.

This area of Oneida County experienced five severe and recurring floods in recent years. The Halloween Flood of 2019 was among the most devastating floods ever to hit Central New York. Emergency services conducted multiple rescues, residents were displaced, nearly 200 properties were damaged, and residents are still suffering years later.

Back in September, former congressman Anthony Brindisi announced that up to $20 million in Department of Agriculture Funding for Whitestown could be used to help homeowners with buyouts. Now, that funding is up to $28 million.

The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a part of the Department of Agriculture. The program is in the process of helping residents by allowing eligible, approved property owners within a specific Whitesboro floodplain to receive a buyout and relocate somewhere that’s not flood prone.

“The town is the project’s sponsor here. We’re the liaison between the NRCS and the applicants. This is a NRCS program. It is their criteria. It is their rules. We are working as quickly as possible but unfortunately and undertaking massive as this one is going to take time,” Kaleta said.

About 200 applicants have applied for the program. The goal is to provide offers to applicants by the end of the year.

“The town and NRCS are just waiting to execute a cooperative agreement which is scheduled to take place at some point this summer,” Kaleta said. “Once the agreement is executed, NRCS will be able to provide the town with funding to start the appraisal process. The appraisals are needed to develop offers to provide to applicants.”

Although it is a voluntary program, Kaleta says he is strongly encouraging residents to accept the offers, “It is premature to say how this is all going to work because NRCS needs to see how many folks are going to accept their offers. When somebody accepts their offer, they are going to literally plot that on a map and they are going to plot all the acceptance offers on a map and they are going to see how it works out.”

Kaleta also says he understands residents who are anxious or afraid of the unknowns. “I do know and acknowledge that it is a sellers market but what I can say is that full market values of homes in the project area are higher than what they have been selling for.”

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