Almost four years after the devastation of Hurricane Irene, Schoharie County has finally secured federal approval to rebuild and relocate our Public Safety Facility outside of the flood zone and to put the long-shuttered jail back into operation.
It wasn't easy.
Fighting county appeals and pleas to relocate the facility to higher ground, the Federal Emergency Management Agency cited regulatory statutes and past decisions in their refusals, while we had a simple, rock-solid truth that could not be disputed: the question isn't if we will face another major flood event, but when?
And when that major flood event comes rolling down the Schoharie Creek again, do we really want to risk our law enforcement apparatus being knocked out of the game, again? As well as worry about the housing and safety of dozens, if not hundreds of potential prisoners that might be in jail at that time?
Common sense aside, we also had state law on our side: New York State prohibits the expenditure of its funds to the rebuilding of emergency buildings inside of a existing flood zone. Furthermore, when properties within a flood zone are subject to FEMA buyouts, those properties are permanently barred from future construction.
Why wouldn't the federal emergency agency apply those same standards to the primary hub of law enforcement in an entire county?
We don't have an answer for that, but we do have a lot of praise to offer for those federal, state, and county officials who fought so hard for us in this lengthy fight.
Regardless of party or proximity to Schoharie County, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Congressman Chris Gibson, New York State Senator Jim Seward, and New York State Assemblyman Pete Lopez pulled their collective political clout together to fight for Schoharie County.
However, special praise must be given to Schoharie County Flood Recovery Coordinator Bill Cherry, who in addition to his elected role as Treasurer, has spent countless hours fighting for his county's behalf not only in butting heads with FEMA, but with rallying the entire federal and state delegations behind our position.
Cherry, with the support of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors and consultant Ron Simmons, as Senator Schumer said in a press release issued last week, "have all worked on this tirelessly since the day the building flooded four years ago," and are the reason why we are finally seeing the light at the end of this tunnel.