It's "all hands on deck" at the Buffalo office of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, processing emergency repair permits for those whose property along Lake Ontario has been damaged by flooding or erosion this spring.
"It was pretty straightforward, I'll give them that," Ben Faery of Wilson said. He said he filled out a one-page form and in two days had a permit to build a seven-foot-high, 320-foot-long stone wall.
In the past, Faery said, such a permit probably would have taken six months and would have had to win the approval of the Army Corps of Engineers as well as the DEC.
DEC Regional Director Abby Snyder said Monday during a visit to Olcott that 64 permits have been issued in Niagara County this spring, with another 12 being processed as of Monday morning. Only 18 permits were issued in the county in all of 2016.
"We recognize there is a severe emergency," Snyder said. "This is really our top priority in the Permits Division."
Statewide, 247 repair permits have been issued.
"It didn't take too long, a day or two," said Al Weir of Burt, who sought permission to use quarry stone and recycled concrete to fill in a gap in his lakefront property caused by erosion.
Bruce Williams of Somerset said he's hired D.T. Truesdell Trucking of Porter to place six- to eight-ton boulders in front of his damaged bluff along the lake. Smaller rocks were placed along the land in 1973 to protect the property.
"Every three or four years we have to bring someone in to push them back to shore because the waves move them out," said Williams, who let his contractor handle the permit request.
David S. Denk, the regional permit administrator, said nine permits were handed out on the spot Saturday at the state's mobile command center set up at the Olcott Fire Company hall, 1691 Lockport-Olcott Road. It will be open again from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Denk said most of the permits are for general repairs to existing walls, and they are good until April 30, 2019. He said one of the reasons for the long time frame is that there are relatively few contractors able to carry out such work, and they are likely to be swamped with calls.
"People need to do something when the water levels go down, and time is of the essence," Snyder said. Given those facts, the state is on the lookout for reports of price gouging.
Anyone with a complaint about suspected price gouging should call the DEC's Lake Ontario Flood Assistance Hotline at 866-244-3839. That's also a number to call for questions about obtaining repair permits, although the DEC's Buffalo office also has a local number: 851-7165. Denk said many of the permits are bring processed through emails to email@example.com.
Niagara County Emergency Management Director Jonathan F. Schultz said wind and rain over the weekend pushed water onshore and forced more pumping of storm sewers in Olcott to keep them from overflowing.
Monday, Lt. Kathy Hochul announced the release of $10 million in state funding to assist municipalities in the eight counties along Lake Ontario with infrastructure repairs. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo previously declared a state of emergency in all the lakeshore counties.