And delays with FEMA Buyout Program

Residents feel stuck in flood recovery planning

By Erika Mahoney

July 9, 2013 Updated Jul 9, 2013 at 12:14 AM EDT

Town of Union, NY (WBNG Binghamton) It's been almost two years since the 2011 flood swept through the Southern Tier, and local residents are upset over how slow recovery has been.

Their concerns grew saturated recently, with flash floods and heavy rain, triggering bad memories and worry about the future.

On Monday, the town of Union held a public meeting to address ways to redevelop in a way that provides more flood protection.

It's all part of The ReUNION Project 2020, a plan designed to engage the public in drafting a Long Term Community Recovery Strategy, or LTCRS.

The town of Union hired a private consulting group to help lead meetings on the project through their $10.1 million Community Development Block Disaster Recovery Grant.

Just 10 minutes into the meeting, and the conversation turned from a focus on planning for the future to a conversation on current issues.    

"We can't even think about the future because we're still trying to recover," said Cathy Balog, a Johnson City resident. "My husband's business is not back up and running, so it's very, very difficult." 

A room of emotional residents made for a two-hour discussion on how frustrating recovery from the 2011 flood has been.

"It's to be expected that two years after a major storm event that folks are frustrated, and they're trying to figure out what the right thing to do is," said Margaret Irwin, principal of the private consulting group, River Street Planning and Development."That didn't take us by surprise at all. But I think what you also heard was that they're really invested here and they're determined to make a difference."

The four meetings are divided into the subjects of housing, parks and recreation, economic revitalization and infrastructure.
"The only way you ever move forward is to understand where you are today, what's working, what's not working," Irwin said.

Several residents and community leaders shared their ideas.

"Creative housing that might allow for an in-law apartment to co-exist with a family, also to look at housing that would be elevated, so that you don't have the problems of flooding," said Village of Johnson City Trustee Diane Marusich. "The other idea is to give incentives to the local homeowner, business owner, tax owner, so that we don't get the out-of-town blight that occurs when people don't take care of their properties.

"I'm also proposing that whatever money is distributed to the region, to make sure it is first vested to the people who have made the decision to remain," she added. "We want to make sure that those who have made the commitment in the area are treated first and foremost."   

But the difference between discussing change and actual change weighs on residents' minds.

"I think it's a great think tank," Balog said. "But we've been 'think-tanking' this for two years now and I think someone needs to show us that we are actually moving forward and doing something concrete and constructive because it's still a lot of talk."

Residents said they feel ignored by state and federal representatives, and the delay with the FEMA buyout program in the town of Union is a perfect example.

The process has been delayed about a month, according to Union Supervisor Rose Sotak.

Sotak said Monday the individual cases have all been processed locally, but the contracts with the state and FEMA are not finalized.

"The team here has been working, working, working to get the gold of the buyouts and we will continue to do so until it's done," Sotak said.

Marusich is hopeful, too, and hopeful her community will get back on its feet soon.

"It's most definitely a positive step," Marusich said. "We have a lot to be thankful for in terms of our regional planning director and the representation we have thus far. It looks like a plan is emerging, some good results will come from it I'm sure."

According to Irwin, there will be a first draft of the LTCRS by the end of the year.

The project is funded through grants from the New York State Department of State Environmental Protection Fund - Title 3 Smart Growth program and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program.

For those who can't make the meetings, ideas and comments can be submitted at The ReUNION Project 2020, an interactive web page for the project.


Local Meeting Schedule:

Tuesday, July 9: Parks and Recreation

6-8 p.m.

Endwell Fire Department


Monday, July 22: Economic Revitalization

6-8 p.m.

George F. Johnson Memorial Library


Tuesday, July 23: Infrastructure

6-8 p.m.

Johnson City Senior Center

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