Keene, Jay awarded $3 million

Gov. Andrew Cuomo led a meeting in Albany Wednesday discussing emergency preparedness, and there the towns of Keene and Jay were jointly awarded $3 million.

The New York Rising, launched by Cuomo last year, assists communities in the reconstruction process if they suffered significant damage from Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. It’s funded almost entirely by more than $600 million of federal funds through the Disaster Recovery program.

Jay and Keene took an award for their proposed restoration and flood mitigation at Johns Brook, considered the best infrastructure investment by the New York Rising conference. The project is designed to protect future assets from flooding and restore habitat. The $3 million bonus was awarded to the towns to further prepare their emergency planning. The two communities previously split $6 million given in 2013.

Randy Douglas, supervisor of the town of Jay and chairman of Essex County’s board of supervisors, was in attendance at the meeting.

“Great day in Albany,” Douglas wrote by email. “We are very happy to receive these additional funds to improve the Towns of Jay and Keene and to help us be better prepared for any future possible flooding.”

The meeting began with a video touting the program, which said there are 50 communitites involved in the program, covering 6,500 square miles of the state, and 500 local members of the effort.

The governor sat next to state Sen. Betty Little, the Queensbury Republican who represents most of northeastern New York, including Essex County. Several other members of the state Legislature including Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury whose district includes Essex County. Local county and community leaders from across the state were also there.

“We are reminded what happened in the North Country two and a half years ago,” Little said. “The storm is behind us, and now we have to move forward. … The idea of New York Rising is the idea of moving forward, being better and preventing this from happening again.”

Little said both she and Stec agree that in the past the North Country was often forgotten by the Legislature, but not this time, she said.

“The governor was there for us,” Little said. “He came and assured them we would get some help.”

Little said the governor helped secure funding that rebuilt the firehouse in Keene that was partially washed away and the firehouse in Upper Jay that was heavily damaged by flooding. The firehouse in Upper Jay will be completed in a few weeks.

“He didn’t just watch; he came and worked with us,” Little said, before introducing Cuomo.

Cuomo thanked Little, saying she is an “exemplar of government service” done well.

“This was all created from whole cloth,” Cuomo said, of New York Rising. “We thought it was the right direction to go in, but no one has done it.”

Cuomo said government in general doesn’t have a good track record on disaster recovery, but he hopes to change that by empowering local governments to create their own reconstuction plans.

“We talk about state, local and county partnerships; that’s what you see in this room today,” he said.

Cuomo also discussed a visit he made to the North Country.

“I was in the North Country a couple months ago and a local official came over and I greeted him,” Cuomo said. “Someone said, ‘You gave him a big hug.'”

Cuomo said usually he is more of a half-hug or pat on the back kind of person, but he recalled the bond that was created with the local official because of the storm.

“We were through storms together, and floods together and we shared moments where we were really really frightened together,” Cuomo said. “Those emotions bind people.”

Cuomo said there are some things the state should do from a top-down approach, but with emergency reconstruction, all communities are different, and that approach doesn’t work as well.

“The way to do it was go to the local communities and say, ‘look, we are doing everything on a top-down level,’ and then tell communities they should come up with a plan for their community,” Cuomo said. “That’s it in a nutshell.”