FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 1, 2013
Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-419-5221 (cell)
Westchester Legislator Shimsky Calls for a Major County-Wide Flood Mitigation Initiative
BOL Chairman Jenkins and Shimsky propose changes to stormwater legislation
White Plains, NY – Westchester County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), chair of the Saw Mill River Watershed Advisory Board (SWAB), called today for a major county-wide flood mitigation initiative that would include immediate dredging efforts, an accelerated schedule for Watershed Reconnaissance Plans and creation of an Office of Stormwater Management.
Also, BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) joined Legislator Shimsky in calling for a change to existing stormwater legislation to allow approved capital projects to alleviate flooding to move forward without municipalities first being required to match fifty percent (50%) of the project cost.
“Damaging flood waters plague county residents and business owners even after ordinary rainstorms, and now real action has to be taken by all of the levels of government and pertinent agencies to tackle the problem,” said Shimsky following a SWAB meeting that took place today at the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL). “Comprehensive efforts to mitigate flooding in problem areas will help in the short-term, but forward-looking decisions need to be made to ensure our communities are protected for years to come.”
A county-wide flood mitigation initiative needs to include the following courses of action said Shimsky:
Ongoing dredging and debris removal efforts, plus culvert clean-ups: Municipalities, plus the County and State, need to identify places on rivers, streams and tributaries that need dredging or debris removal to allow the proper flow of stormwater. Also, culverts and storm drains need to be regularly inspected and cleared. Problem areas may require dredging and debris removal, plus troublesome culverts and storm drains need to be catalogued for easy reference and sharing among government entities and agencies.
“The debris removal projects done after Hurricane Irene in 2011 were helpful in a number of locations around Westchester,” said Shimsky. “The debris is accumulating again, however. We need to regularly maintain a removal schedule to keep our waterways clear.”
Accelerate the schedule for completion of the County’s Watershed Reconnaissance Plans: The stormwater legislation approved by the BOL and signed into law in 2011 required the County’s Planning Department to complete a Reconnaissance Plan for each of the county’s six watershed by October 2012. This spring, two plans were finally completed—for the Saw Mill and Bronx river watersheds. A number of flood mitigation projects have been stalled because these plans are not yet extant—“A real Catch-22,” said Shimsky.
Eliminate the 50% Municipal Match for Flood Mitigation Projects: Both Legislator Shimsky and BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) point to this initiative as being crucial for real flood mitigation efforts to begin. The County’s existing stormwater legislation, passed in 2011, requires a 50% financial match first from local municipalities before capital projects can move forward. But this law went into effect before Governor Cuomo’s 2% budget tax cap was passed, causing most municipalities to refrain from starting sizable flood mitigation projects.
“The stormwater legislation needs to be amended so the fifty percent municipal match needed for flood mitigation projects is eliminated,” said Shimsky. “Another possible solution is for the State to grant an exemption for municipalities regarding the tax cap when funding goes toward flood mitigation.”
“The compromise to require municipalities to have their matching funds in place has clearly not worked, as all of the flood mitigation projects are stalled,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), who noted that County Executive Astorino initially vetoed the stormwater legislation. “The legislation now needs to be modified to allow projects to move forward while municipalities secure funding.”
Install river and stream gauges to pinpoint areas for flood mitigation: Acquiring the gauges and putting them in place have been discussed at recent SWAB meetings. The data will be able to measure the effects of proposed flood mitigation projects through computer modeling. Governor Andrew Cuomo recently referred to tributary gauges in announcing $500 million in hazard mitigation grants for communities impacted by natural disasters like flooding.
Office of Stormwater Management—A Proposal
Legislator Shimsky suggested also that it is time to consider the creation of an Office of Stormwater Management (OSM), which would report to the County’s Planning Department, to track flood problems and mitigation efforts, as well as monitor new large-scale developments and consequential stormwater issues. “This centralized sub-agency of sorts could act as an important resource to municipalities while also serving to prioritize mitigation efforts,” Shimsky noted.
“Every substantial rainfall brings the threat of flooding to the entire county, and the situation is only getting worse because of sprawl and the increasing number of severe storms,” said Shimsky. “Finding sustainable solutions to the flooding problems, with projects that do not overly burden our taxpayers, has to be our objective, but we must agree that infrastructure investments that mitigate flooding can no longer wait because of bureaucratic snafus and intentional inaction. Too many residents and business owners need help now. Finger-pointing and waiting for someone else to pick up the ball can no longer be tolerated.”
“I’m calling on the County Administration to work closely with the Board of Legislators and local municipalities on the flood mitigation initiatives I am proposing today, or immediately set forth on another course of action to solve the problem,” said Shimsky.
Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), chair of the BOL Government Operation Committee, in noting her support for her BOL colleagues’ flooding initiatives, added: “It is imperative that Westchester County take the lead in flood mitigation planning, instead of placing the burden of leadership on the local municipalities and taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude about how and when these critical projects move forward. Kicking this responsibility down the road places the lives and property of Westchester residents in real risk, as recent storms have clearly illustrated. It’s time for smart leadership, long-term planning and good governing to maintain Westchester’s environmental and economic success.”
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