Cuomo: More than 100,000 sandbags and two sandbaggers dispatched to Jefferson County to protect against flooding

May 7, 2019 - Henderson, NY - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivers a storm briefing at Westcott Beach State Park. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

ALBANY, NY — Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the deployment of resources to Jefferson County in anticipation of potential Lake Ontario flooding. More than 100,000 sandbags and two sandbaggers have been dispatched to locations throughout the county.

To date, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services has deployed more than 800,000 sandbags, 15 sandbaggers, hundreds of pumps and 920 feet of aquadam throughout the eight counties lining the shores of the lake. As of today, 100 members of the New York National Guard remain activated to support preparedness operations. In addition, Department of Environmental Conservation spills experts are proactively inspecting marinas and near-shore facilities to ensure fuel storage tanks and other infrastructure are safely secured and these facilities are prepared for high water.

“If this flooding is going to happen every couple of years then let’s invest and rather than replacing the infrastructure, let’s build a new and a better infrastructure that can handle this new normal,” Governor Cuomo said. “We’ve seen this movie in 2017, we know how it turns out. The IJC should release more water earlier – that’s the answer. The IJC doesn’t even have a New York voice and I’ve been complaining to the federal government for the past two years. At least put a New York person on the IJC so someone has the New York perspective, and that still hasn’t happened – so it’s frustrating, it’s infuriating, it’s irresponsible. I’m there to protect New York and New York, in my opinion, is being hurt by the IJC. In the meantime, my message to local officials is simple: let us know now what you need in terms of resources and what we can put in place to alleviate the damage that may very well happen at the end of the week.”

The Governor again encouraged local officials in the eight counties potentially impacted by Lake Ontario flooding to work with their County Emergency Managers to submit any resource needs directly into NY Responds, the state’s web-based system that enables both local governments and state agencies to submit and share vital emergency-related information and resource requests. Emergency Managers may also submit requests through the New York State Watch Center at 518-292-2200 if they are unable to access NY Responds at the time.

Property owners along the shoreline in need of sandbags, aquadam or other resources should contact their municipality or county emergency management office directly for assistance. In addition to its ongoing preparedness operations along the shoreline, the state will continue to coordinate directly with counties and local partners to ensure their supply stocks for residents and business owners are continuously replenished. The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services remains in constant communication with local partners and stands ready to deploy additional sandbags, sandbaggers, pumps and aquadam to any localities in need.

Following a meeting with State officials last week the International Joint Commission has increased outflows of water from the Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam on the St. Lawrence River in order to minimize impacts, however the lake’s water level remains more than one foot above average and could continue to rise.

Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo wrote to the IJC requesting that the Commission maximize outflows from the Lake Ontario system to prevent the flooding that thousands of New Yorkers grappled with in 2017. Since then, water levels have remained higher than average and are expected to increase in the coming weeks, requiring the proactive deployment of state resources to the region to protect homeowners and businesses from potential flooding.

In addition to the Division’s coordination efforts and deployment of resources the State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a General Permit to address the potentially damaging effects of high water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River due to the ongoing above average precipitation and snow melt in the Great Lakes Basin. This permit, based on an Emergency Declaration issued by the DEC commissioner, will expedite the process for shoreline property owners to quickly make necessary repairs and stabilize their properties from flood damage. High water levels are projected to continue and may cause widespread shoreline erosion, damage coastline structures and jeopardize infrastructure similar to the historic flooding that took place in the spring of 2017.

The new permit is available on DEC’s website. DEC will accept applications through April 30, 2020. The General Permit authority is in effect until September 30, 2020.

Permitted activities include:

  • Repair and in-kind replacement of erosion structures;

  • Repair or in-kind reconstruction of existing public roads, bridges, utilities, and other public infrastructure;

  • Stabilization of existing, functional storm-damaged dwellings, decks, and walkways with temporary bracing and piling; and

  • Removal of channel blockages in tributaries to Lake Ontario blocked by shoreline sediment.

Homeowners and municipalities with questions about the permits can contact their Regional DEC Permit Administrator.

Additionally, the State Department of Transportation is overseeing sandbag filling operations in the eight counties bordering Lake Ontario, in cooperation with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision which has provided work crews made up of between 5-12 eligible incarcerated individuals, who have filled almost 170,000 sand bags and worked on an aquadam deployments. DOCCS will continue to make additional crews available as the situation evolves.

DOT’s incident command system has been activated for this weather event and maintenance staff are deploying DHSES equipment such as water pumps and aqua dams to strategic locations bordering the Lake in anticipation of flooding.  Crews are also readying response equipment, inspecting drainage structures in low lying areas, and inspecting culverts for debris. The New York State Power Authority and Canal Corporation have also provided assistance in transporting resources to affected communities.

Since the last high water event along the Lake Ontario, Lower Niagara River and St. Lawrence River shorelines in 2017, the State has made a $95 million commitment to the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River Shorelines. The recovery program started with an initial $45 million commitment for aid to residents, small businesses and municipalities affected by the flood. It was supplemented with two $5 million grants from the State and Municipal Facilities Program to bolster previous relief and provide necessary financial assistance to recovery efforts. The 2018-19 State Budget included an additional $40 million for the recovery program, which continued to support shoreline reconstruction and stabilization, reimbursement for emergency repairs during the flooding and seawall reconstruction.