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Erie County officials hoping for federal aid for Halloween storm

Erie County is waiting to hear if there will be a federal emergency declaration, and with it, federal assistance, in the wake of the destructive windstorm Halloween night.

It appears that the damage to publicly owned infrastructure has met the threshold required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to Daniel J. Neaverth Jr., commissioner of Erie County's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. FEMA representatives were checking out the damage in the county Tuesday.

"We feel fairly confident that we have hit the number that would be required for us here in Erie County," he said.

But in order to get the designation and federal aid for repairs of public roads, bridges, buildings, piers and breakwalls, New York State also must meet a threshold. Neaverth said the county's threshold is $3.52 million, while the state's is $29.64 million.

Among the big ticket repairs are Bird Island Pier, with damage estimated at $3.5 million, he said. Times Beach had $600,000 in damages, while the Town of Evans' Sturgeon Point Marina sustained $500,000 in damages.

The wind had not stopped blowing in the aftermath of the Halloween storm before crews were out assessing the damage for possible federal aid.

"When the storm is going on we try to get damage assessments from the communities," Neaverth said.

County officials worked with local and state emergency representatives in making a quick assessment, then asked FEMA staff to come in and review the damage.

"It's a rapid assessment, but it's fairly accurate as to whether we are getting close to Erie County's number," he said. "If you're at that threshold, then you wait for a federal declaration."

The assistance typically reimburses municipalities for 75% of the cost of repairs, he said. New York may or may not pay a portion or all of the remaining 25%.

The news is not so good for assistance to private, individual property owners, Neaverth said.

"A lot of people lost some fairly expensive breakwalls, but that does not meet the criteria of individual assistance," he said.

Eligible costs include uninsured damages and loss of primary residences, and it is a high bar, he said. The individual assistance threshold was not met for the November 2014 snowstorm, but low-interest loans were available from the Small Business Administration for the November 2014 storm and for some ice jam flooding in West Seneca and South Buffalo, he said.

The Small Business Administration also has a program of low-interest and long-term loans for homeowners and business owners meeting the eligibility criteria when 25 or more homes or businesses have 40% or more uninsured losses.

Hamburg Supervisor James M. Shaw called a meeting Wednesday evening with lakeside property owners. He said the town wants to come up with ideas on what can be done in the short term to address the losses of residents, what can be done to shore up seawalls and other short-term projects, and to see what can be done about lake levels.

"I think the people at Hoover Beach appreciate that we're trying to do more than just help them clean up the mess," Shaw said.

Neaverth said the county also is trying to help.

"We don't want to have any stones unturned," he said. "There also needs to be the understanding we have to operate within the guidelines."

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