Gov. Cuomo calls into north country radio program to discuss flooding preparations

ALBANY, NY — Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on North Country Public Radio with David Sommerstein.

A rush transcript of the Governor’s interview is available below:

David Sommerstein: Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency yesterday for all eight counties along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and he also implemented a new wake zone for boats within 1,000 feet of shoreline. The governor was in Olcott yesterday on the far western edge of Lake Ontario and he’s made at least half-a-dozen appearances along the lake in an effort to promote flooding preparations and during those visits he’s been sharply critical of the agency charged with trying to manage water levels, the International Joint Commission. But the IJC says snowmelt and rain is the real problem and the IJC accuses Cuomo of trying to score political points. Well, we have Governor Cuomo with us on the line this morning. Good morning, governor.

Governor Cuomo: Good morning, David. How are you?

David Sommerstein: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for joining us. Let’s start with the state of emergency. What is the current state of the shoreline on the North Country portion of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River?

Governor Cuomo: Yeah, thank you very much, David. Thank you for making time for me. The water is now at flood level. It’s at the highest it has been. As you have mentioned I’ve been paying very close attention to it and it has only gotten worse since we started. So what it means is the water is at flood level and now we’re just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that Mother Nature doesn’t act up, meaning there’s no more rain which would make the situation worse or, more probable, higher winds. If the water stayed flat it would be fine. It’s actually the wind that causes waves and the waves actually create the flooding.

David Sommerstein: And what does the state of emergency actually do that you declared yesterday?

Governor Cuomo: What the state of emergency does is, number one: on practical level it sets the speed limit of no more than five miles an hour 1,000 miles from the shore on the lake, which keeps the wakes from boats down. Wakes obviously create more waves and make the situation worse. And the emergency order also gives the state more flexibility for expedited procurements and facilitates working with local private homeowners and businesses as well as local governments. We have deployed as a preventive measure hundreds of thousands of sand bags. We have National Guard who have been working and we are putting in temporary dams. It’s a new product frankly that we used a few years ago.

David Sommerstein: Aquadams, they’re called.

Governor Cuomo: Aquadams. I never heard of them before, but with this climate change and flooding all around the country, if not the world, they’ve actually created a product that is a temporary dam; its’ a large water bladder, in essence a rubber bladder that gets filled up and is about 9 feet wide about 4 feet high when it’s filled. So, it creates a temporary barrier along the shoreline and we can install these. We actually have installed almost all the aquadam that we now have. We’re going to buy more, but it expedites the procurement for those types of materials. 

David Sommerstein: Governor, you mentioned climate change and you’ve been talking on your stops along the Lake about the new normal, as you say: wetter springs, more flooding and our need to adapt. And at the same time you’ve been very sharply blaming the International Joint Commission for somehow not being able to manage these water levels, even though there are historic high levels on Lake Erie and already flooding downstream in Quebec. Is your blame of the IJC distracting from this message that we need to adapt to this new normal, to the reality of climate change going forward and change the way we build our homes, change where our homes are, perhaps? 

Governor Cuomo: No David, I think both are true, right? We’re in this atmosphere of political polarization and there’s only one truth, you’re wrong, I’m right, it’s black, it’s white. Often the truth is more subtle. Both are true. I do believe in the new normal, I’ve been speaking about it for years. We had superstorm Sandy, we had superstorm Irene. I have handled more emergencies as Governor in a shorter period of time than any governor in history. This never happened before, David. I’ve been a New Yorker all my life. We had an emergency. The emergency in the past was heavy snowfall and the governor’s responsibility was to close the New York State Thruway. That was the extent of the emergencies. There were no floods or tornadoes or superstorms. They keep saying to me this is a once-in-a-one-hundred-year flood, but it happens three times a year so that says we have to recalibrate our expectation.

The flood level that we’re at now, we were at this level just two years ago. 2017 we had terrible flooding so there is no doubt that there is a change in the weather pattern, the climate pattern. There is extreme weather. It’s an international phenomenon. It’s undeniable. Climate change is a political buzzword that gets people’s backs up and I try to stay away from the political polarization because that defeats government action. But there is a new normal. I said yesterday, look, we went through this two years ago. You can’t say this is once in one hundred years. It’s now every two years so accept that and that would then change how you think about building along the shoreline, what you rebuild, where you rebuild it. After 2017 we spent $100 million, New York State, rebuilding homes, businesses, etcetera.

David Sommerstein: And was that money used to do something new, to change the way construction happened, or was it simply rebuilding the things that had already failed in the 2017 flood?

Governor Cuomo: Yeah, great question. Only on the margins. We do what we call mitigation prevention but the overwhelming attitude was, in 2017, well, this is once in one hundred years. It’s never going to happened again so let’s just rebuild as we had built. I said at that time and I am saying it more vociferously now, it cannot be about rebuilding anymore. It needs to be about rebuilding better than before and accepting this new normal. If this is going to happen every few years, do we really want structures where they are and is a wise investment of taxpayer’s money to rebuild where we are now when we are on notice – a new normal.

David Sommerstein: What can the state do to help with that change and help the shoreline adapt?

Governor Cuomo: You are talking about. Once you accept the premise, which is a controversial premise by the way, of this new normal, then you would change your thinking. You would say ‘should we rebuild that home where it is?’ ‘Should that home be raised if we are going to rebuild it?’ ‘Should we be building barriers along the shoreline that are higher than anything we built before?’ The lake is going to be higher. Those will be the questions if we go through another flood. If Mother Nature does cause significant flooding here and we have to come up with a rebuilding program, I would argue we have a different concept to it. It is building back better than before and accepting the new normal. That is your first question. Second question, because you said something in the—

David Sommerstein: We are running out of time Governor.

Governor Cuomo: The IJC, I am not blaming the IJC and there is no politics to blaming the IJC, their job is to regulate the water flow. You are saying that they said ‘it is impossible to regulate the water flow.’ If it is impossible, say it is impossible. Say ‘because of the snow melts, because of the rain, we cannot balance water flow anymore.’ That is their job. I do not understand why they do not release more water earlier in the year. We know this is going to happen come the spring, come May. Why don’t they release more water earlier or say I can’t. And that would be okay also, but we can’t just have the same loop where we see the same movie every couple of years. The IJC saying “Oh boy, there’s more water than we anticipated and now we have a problem in Canada and in New York.” And everybody is going to be flooded again. We had 3,000 homes flooded last time, $100 million. So it’s not blame, either say you can’t do your task or figure out a way to do it. But there’s no politics to this. I represent the people of the State of New York, I’m concerned about Canada also, but my job is to defend New Yorkers.

David Sommerstein: Governor Cuomo thank you so much, we’re out of time. We really appreciate you calling in and we have our fingers crossed about the flooding.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you, thank you David.

David Sommerstein: Thanks very much.