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Olcott Beach to stay closed in 2017 due to flooding; Ortt seeks NY aid for flood victims

Flood conditions put an end to swimming at a public beach in Olcott this year before the swimming season even began.

Newfane Town Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said Friday that Krull Park Beach on Lake Ontario will not operate this year.

"We just made the decision that we can't open the beach this year. The approaches to it have collapsed," Horanburg said.

At the moment, the entire beach is underwater because of flooding from Lake Ontario, Horanburg said. The beach is owned by Niagara County, but staffed by the Town of Newfane.

That's not the only place underwater in Olcott. Water has almost submerged one of the two major piers and is close to submerging the other. Water also has entered several homes and buildings near the harbor, including Hedley Boat Co. on the east side of the harbor, Horanburg said.

New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul toured the hamlet Friday with Jonathan F. Schultz, Niagara County emergency management director, to see for herself the trouble in the low-lying areas around and just west of Olcott Harbor.

State Sen. Robert G. Ortt said Friday that New York state should make direct payments to residents along the shore of Lake Ontario whose property has been damaged by high water this year.

"I firmly believe that there is money in the state budget that can be made available for folks that lose a significant amount of property," Ortt said.

Meeting with reporters in Olcott, Ortt also said that the area might be worthy of federal disaster aid, which might help the residents more directly.

Ortt, whose Senate district includes all of Niagara and Orleans counties, spoke outside a state "command center" where employees are there to help property owners with insurance claims.

Property owners from Youngstown to Somerset came to the trailer Friday morning, but none left with any assurances of aid.

Ortt said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set a precedent in 2013 when he visited Niagara County after flash flooding in the county's cities, caused by heavy rainstorms, and made public check presentations to owners of affected homes and businesses.

Residents of Niagara County's four lakefront towns have complained about erosion eating away at their land. Decks, staircases to the beach and trees have been damaged or washed away, and breakwalls have been submerged or damaged, residents have said.

Cuomo did order the Department of Environmental Conservation to begin expediting work permits for lakeshore protection, and the DEC said earlier this week that it issued more permits in the first week of the program than the 18 it issued in all of 2016.

The State Senate passed a bill Tuesday containing emergency funding for local governments along Lake Ontario, but that bill, which has not yet passed the Assembly, doesn't address the harm done to owners of residential or business property. Ortt said that bill was aimed at repairing damage to infrastructure, such as drinking water and sewage treatment plants.

"It wouldn't be for private property owners," Ortt said. "That doesn't mean that funds can't be made available."

He said he's asked Cuomo's office about that. "No commitment," Ortt said.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said Ortt's suggestion is premature, because the waters haven't receded yet and are expected to remain high for as long as six more weeks.

"I think when this is all over, they should be looking to help the municipalities," Horanburg said. "All these property owners are going to be coming to us, complaining about their property values."

If the state can't come up with the money to pay people, Ortt said, New York could turn to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"FEMA exists for these kinds of things," Ortt said. "I think ultimately, the feds are going to be part of the solution here."

He said that since the Obama administration approved Plan 2014, the International Joint Commission water-level management policy that some blame for contributing to the high water, the federal government deserves to play a role in helping to compensate property owners victimized by the flooding.

The IJC has said that the water is only two inches higher than it would have been under the former water-level policy, and has blamed the wet spring for the trouble.

High lake levels batter Olcott at one end, Montreal on the other

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