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FEMA denies city stump-removal aid Rejection spells $1.4 million blow

In a move that could cost the City of Buffalo up to $1.4 million, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has decided it will not pay for Buffalo to remove the roughly 7,000 tree stumps that will ultimately be left in the wake of last October's freak snowstorm.

"FEMA said they were not a reimbursable item under their criteria," Peter Cutler, spokesman for Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, said Tuesday.

Some 3,000 damaged trees in the city have already been removed. In addition, Cutler said, the city recently has sent notice to property owners that another 4,000 damaged trees must be chopped down, which, of course, will create another 4,000 stumps that need to be removed.

The city has appealed the FEMA decision. In its appeal, the city argues that the tree stumps "will pose an imminent danger over time," Cutler said.

For example, he said, the stumps could prove hazardous to pedestrians who might not see them at dusk, he said.

FEMA's decision quickly drew the ire of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who on Tuesday sent a letter asking FEMA Administrator David Paulison to reverse the decision and help Buffalo pay the estimated $1.4 million cost to remove the debris.

"These stumps, which are unsightly and risky, are a stubborn legacy of the surprise storm," Schumer said in a statement. "The bottom line is FEMA needs to deliver this much-needed aid so the City of Buffalo can finally complete the cleanup process."

Schumer noted that Buffalo officials are concerned that anyone who suffers an injury from these hazardous tree stumps may hold the city liable, creating another cost the city cannot afford.

Phone calls to several FEMA offices failed to yield any explanation for the decision, which parallels one involving North Tonawanda, which lost out on almost $1 million in tree removal funds.

News Washington Bureau Assistant Andrew Vanacore contributed to this report.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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