A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
Since April, property owners along Lake Ontario spanning from Western New York to the North Country have been battling record-breaking lake levels and have experienced widespread flooding and significant property damage.
Entire communities have been working non-stop to protect homes, businesses and public infrastructure.
In communities where residents rely on private wells and septic systems there is equal concern that flooding will comprise systems creating a public health danger.
In my district, the damage is evident.
Many lakefront properties have lost significant shoreline and are experiencing damaging floods and high waves from the lake.
In the northern part of the district, numerous marinas have gone underwater.
Even some of the treasured sand dunes at Sandy Island Beach have been impacted.
The flooding and high lake levels have not been this bad for lakeside communities since records were kept starting in 1918.
This is a dire situation that demands statewide and federal attention.
Unlike other catastrophic weather-related events such as a hurricane that occurs over a short duration of time, the natural disaster we have been confronted with has been prolonged, and unfortunately, the end is not in sight.
The current lake level is 33 inches above normal for this time of year and unfortunately, is expected to rise until it hits its peak in the middle of June.
Recognizing the damage and the needs of these communities, the Governor declared a State of Emergency on May 2 for the six counties bordering Lake Ontario.
As a result of the State of Emergency, the Department of Environmental Conservation is expediting permits needed by property owners to reinforce break walls and/or install riprap.
Local emergency management is working in partnership with towns to provide and fill sandbags for the public.
In addition, the Governor has announced $10 million in aid to localities to protect or repair public water and sewer systems, and other infrastructure.
Providing municipalities financial help is a good start in recovering from this disaster, however, private property owners and businesses need help too.
The cost to protect and rebuild is substantial and many are frustrated that they are incurring costs for what they deem to be a result of Plan 2014.
For businesses that only operate three months out of the year, this has been equally devastating.
They have not only lost out on business due to the floods but have also experienced significant property damage and are faced with the task of rebuilding.
Further, for localities that are already grappling with damage and flooding, it will impact their tourism season and therefore economic activity.
I am working with lawmakers who represent the lakeside communities on legislation that would make $105 million in assistance available to property owners.
The bill would establish a new grant program to assist in economic recovery for businesses and other private property owners.
It would also enable communities to obtain funding for long-term planning so they can be in a better position to cope with these anticipated higher levels that Plan 2014 has promised.
While Canada and the U.S. should revisit the international agreement that ultimately determines the water levels and rescind Plan 2014, it is unclear at this time if that will happen.
Another bill that I authored that would assist property owners is called the Lake Ontario and Connected Waterways Assessment Relief Act.
This measure gives authority to localities to reduce assessments for property owners and businesses that have lost land or property due to erosion and flooding.
If a property sustained substantial damage, property owners could ask the town to reassess the property to reflect that damage and receive a lower assessment.
This would, in essence, lower tax bills for property owners.
For example, if a home is assessed at $100,000 and it incurred a 25% loss in property value due to damages and erosion, the property could be reduced to an assessment of $75,000 and subsequently, the homeowner would pay less in taxes.
Municipalities would be eligible to be reimbursed for loss of tax revenue through a state-created fund that utilizes settlement monies.
This bill is modeled after other assessment relief measures that passed following hurricane Sandy when property owners faced billions of dollars’ worth of damages.
More needs to be done for property owners before session ends next month.
The flooding has caused devastation and at the very least, people deserve the kind of help that has been provided in past natural disasters.
If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.