Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Latimer Pushes for State Flood Mitigation Fund

New York State Assemblyman George Latimer (Dem-91st A.D.), who represents flood-ravaged neighborhoods in Mamaroneck, Rye, New Rochelle and Larchmont, has proposed a State Flood Mitigation Fund of $30 million over the next three years for projects that would mitigate flooding in the future.

In a statement to the press, Latimer noted, "When I walked through Rye's Indian Village, along Howard and Lester Avenues in Mamaroneck Village, or through New Rochelle's Halcyon Park, I heard and saw many people who were angry about what had happened - angry with a government they felt did nothing in advance to prevent the disaster. It is very hard to discuss specific government programs in those moments; people don't want to hear words, they want to see action." Latimer went on to say that he interpreted this response as a "challenge to translate the street anger into something productive and real: money."

Working with Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Greenburgh and his staff, Latimer has submitted legislation to create a statewide flood mitigation fund, which would operate out of the state's Department of Environmental Conservation to provide direct grants to communities that identify specific projects to reduce flooding. "Rye City is working on an expanded water-retention system on Bowman Avenue in Rye Brook; Larchmont Village is considering an enlarged pipe to carry more water away from Pine Brook homes; Mamaroneck's Flood Action Committee is nearing completion on some specific steps. These are the kinds of projects that this state fund could help support.",

The size and scope of flood-mitigation projects could total over $100 million just for Westchester alone,Latimer admits, conceding that his law is just a first step. And he further cautioned, "We must remember that, as awful as April 15-16 was, we experienced hardly any coastal flooding. That is another separate set of potential problems and projects to be considered."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at the behest of Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) is undertaking a multi-year study of the flooding problems of Westchester, and, after full review, can fund a significant percentage of the projects, with New York State picking up the difference. The time frame, however, extends a few years into the future, which, says Latimer, "is an unsatisfactory wait for residents who fear every weather report of upcoming heavy rain as another round of devastation at hand." Latimer's legislation, if passed and funded, would provide resources much sooner, once specific corrective projects are identified.

The bill has 16 co-sponsors, including Assembly members from the Albany area, Binghamton, Suffolk County and New York City. The first step will be to pass the legislation, followed by ensuring that funds are available in the 2008-09 budget to back up the plan.

"Westchester County has committed to a $10 million annual allocation for flood mitigation," Latimer noted, "and the state needs to do its share as well." He acknowledged, however, that the money "comes from all of us as taxpayers," and that mitigation is in their interest as well.