By SAMANTHA MCDONNELL
OBSERVER Staff Writer
GOWANDA - It has been three years since the devastating flood and a little over three months since U.S. Senator Charles Schumer urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse the village, and little action has been taken.
While some money did come through, Sen. Schumer is once again calling on FEMA to reimburse Gowanda. Schumer said in a press release Thursday he is urging FEMA to pay approximately $1.2 million in reimbursement funds. The New York State Office of Emergency Management has submitted the request and is awaiting approval from FEMA.
The village of Gowanda suffered severe damage in 2009 following a heavy rain storm which brought flooding to the village and surrounding areas. To repair the damage, the village had to borrow approximately $5 million in bond anticipation notes. The repair costs were eligible under federal public assistance funding through FEMA, covering up to 75 percent of eligible repairs. Schumer is calling on FEMA to pay the funds so Gowanda will not incur significant debt for repayment of the BAN.
"Since the flood of 2009 Gowanda has been made whole physically; the concern remains that our village needs to be restored financially," Gowanda Mayor Heather McKeever said.
The village did receive repayment from FEMA in October following a letter sent from Schumer this past August. The village was paid $191,065 which was used to pay down the BAN for the village hall as well as an additional BAN. While some payment was made, Schumer is still urging further payment and calling on FEMA to reimburse the additional monies.
"Although the federal government has reimbursed the village of Gowanda for a portion of the damage incurred after the 2009 storm, I'm calling on FEMA to step up to the plate and finish the job," Schumer said. "FEMA must do everything in its power to expedite federal funding to get Gowanda back on the road to recovery after this village suffered millions in infrastructure damage. Local residents and taxpayers can't wait another moment for the federal government to help them get back on track since disaster struck Gowanda three years ago."
Since the village has not been able to pay off the BAN, it had to be rolled over. Due to this BAN rollover, an additional amount of $25,000 will be paid by the village. Schumer understands that Hurricane Sandy has brought additional requests to FEMA from other areas but the timeliness to pay back Gowanda has never been more critical.
"All of the pieces are now in place, and we are well past the flood that precipitated the original damage. The bottom line is that FEMA needs to get Gowanda the money it needs and deserves without further delay," he said. "I will continue to fight for the (Gowanda) until they receive the final reimbursement to cover the astronomical repair costs," Schumer said.
The village has already paid over $200,000 in interest in the debt. If the BAN cannot be paid off in full by next August, the village estimates an additional $10,000 will be spent. McKeever also reiterated Schumer's point for Gowanda being reimbursed by FEMA immediately.
"As other natural disasters continue to affect our country and state, Gowanda cannot afford to be overlooked by FEMA as we have done our due diligence since 2009 in complying to FEMA's guidelines and approvals as we rebuilt our infrastructure," she said. "I feel Gowanda has been patient in this process and I am encouraged by the continued and critical support from Senator Schumer, Tom Reed and our local and state officials urging FEMA to fund the approved projects that have been completed and paid for by borrowed money."
Recently in August, Schumer called on FEMA to reimburse $750,000 to the village. Since then, the amount of money owed has increased due to additional project worksheets being approved by FEMA. The final project worksheets include projects for landfill erosion, bank restoration, Point Peter Reservoir repairs, Allen Springs repairs and debris removal. The amount of $1.2 million is the total to be reimbursed. The village of Gowanda will continue to work with FEMA until the payments are resolved.
"The village continues to work closely with FEMA as this remains a top priority and we will continue to be persistent until each FEMA project is fully funded."
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