Responding to the “Rising to the Top” challenge issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo's office, Windham joins other New York communities striving to come up with ideas for long-term flood recovery following Irene, Lee and Sandy. Years after the three storms, people are still waiting for funds.
Grant money for the Greene County town of Windham was set aside by Governor Cuomo's office earlier this year, part of a $60 billion federal effort to assist areas hit hardest by Irene, Lee and Sandy.
Windham Chamber of Commerce Board Member Graham Merk co-chairs the Windham Committee For A New York Rising Community. He says it's been a rocky road to flood recovery. "We've pulled together as a community, and the spirit was extremely strong. And we had a lot of help from outsiders as well. We managed to recover fairly well. There are continuing issues that have to be dealt with, and that's what New York Rising Communities is about."
Round One of The New York Rising Community Reconstructgion Program identified 102 towns and villages to be funded. Now Round Two is kicking in, benefiting 22 additional communities. "Windham is part of the second round of the New York Rising Communities Program, and we are just beginning the process of identifying our assets, identifying our needs, we will begin putting together a number of different projects that we will propose to the state for funding."
The town is slated to receive about $3 million in aid. 102nd District Assemblyman Pete Lopez represents several communities that qualify for assistance. "Windham, Prattsville, Schoharie Valley, Middleburgh and others, Blenheim, Gilboa, also Delaware County in my district, Margaretville, town of Middletown area, all of those communities are part of this project that the governor initiated, really part of a grassroots effort to bring people who haven't really been engaged with flood recovery or flood mitigation to network and reach out in public meetings and try to come up with their own independent lists of projects."
Grham Merk notes that areas through which the Batavia Kill flows are most in need of restoration. "The stream itself and a number of the bridges over it suffered a lot of damage. And there's been some studying going on as to what kind of stream work would need to be done. That stream flows to the west through Windham, and it joins up with another stream outside of Prattsville, and when the two of them came together, of course, Prattsville took a tremendous beating at the time of the flood. Prattsville was one of the communities that was in the first round of New York Rising Communities and they have received or are in the process of receiving some grants to do remediation work there."
Assemblyman Lopez points out that all is not well in Prattsville: "Probably about a quarter of my calls still are dealing with flood recovery and flood resiliency. The issue of Prattsville is representative of a number of households and businesses who continue to fall through the cracks, and really are struggling with bureaucracy, red tape, and in some cases, insensitivity to continued suffering. So, last night, a representative case was Christine Owad, who lives in Prattsville, who's been waiting for a year and a half roughly for assistance with the New York Rising program and is just being stymied at every turn."
Lopez met with Owad, who tells Newschannel 13 New York Rising lost her first two applications for financial aid, and the third application is tangled up in red tape. "I'm just at a point where I don't know what to do. I have to do something. In two months, it's going to get cold. In three months, we're going to have snow flying."
Owad is living in a camper parked just outside her home. Lopez says the sheer number of Irene, Lee, and Sandy victims has caused some people, kike Owad, to fall through the cracks. Back in Windham, the local committee is following a timetable: taking an inventory of critical community facilities while reviewing existing plans and studies, identifying critical issues, eventually developing an implementation strategy. Potential projects will be prioritized in November, and a final plan presented to the state by Christmas.
Officials say New York Rising has issued $350 million in reimbursements and reconstruction funding to 7,807 homeowners across the state.