By Regis Phelan, Federal Coordinating Officer
Does the empty field adjacent to the county road have archeological importance?
Those beautiful Karner blue butterflies, first discovered by Vladimir Nabokov, are they an endangered species? How about the Indiana bat? Despite its name, the bats live in Warren and Essex counties and, like the Karner blue butterflies, the Indiana bat is protected by the Endangered Species Act.
If your state agency, local government or nonprofit is seeking aid from FEMA, these questions need to be considered when applying for Public Assistance (PA).
Between June 26 and July 4, 2013, severe storms and floods washed out roads, destroyed culverts and damaged public and private facilities in many areas of New York State.
President Obama issued a Disaster Declaration DR-4129 making Public Assistance available to state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations in Allegany, Broome, Chautauqua, Chenango, Clinton, Cortland, Delaware, Essex, Franklin, Herkimer, Madison, Montgomery, Niagara, Oneida, Otsego and Warren counties.
In the wake of the storms, reviewing environmental and historical regulations might not seem like a priority, but, as the Federal Coordinating Officer for FEMA, I always remind applicants that funding is contingent upon compliance with all federal, state and local laws and regulations.
New York has a diverse environment that supports several threatened and endangered species. Our state also boasts a rich history dating all the way back to when it was called New Netherland. We don’t want or need to sacrifice our environmental and cultural resources to repair the communities damaged during the summer storms.
The best way for PA applicants to avoid delays is to understand the regulations designed to protect our natural and cultural resources and to communicate with FEMA. We’re here to help. We want to work with you to rebuild responsibly.
As I travel around the affected counties meeting with state and local officials, I advise them that repairing roads, rebuilding culverts or demolishing damaged structures may require environmental reviews or historical assessments before grants can be approved. If a PA project has the potential to raise environmental concerns, applicants should notify FEMA’s Office of Environmental Planning and Historical Preservation at the earliest opportunity so it can review the project and provide guidance.
Several of the counties hardest-hit by the storms are home to threatened, endangered or protected species like the Bald eagle, the Indiana bat and the Karner blue butterfly. Projects that involve disturbing land, moving trees or working in water might adversely affect their habitat. FEMA can work with PA applicants in those areas to assure that rebuilding projects stay on course without affecting threatened and endangered species.
If environmental and historical reviews are needed, FEMA can streamline the process. We work cooperatively with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and other state and federal agencies to complete reviews as quickly as possible.
Although applicants are responsible for obtaining permits for recovery projects, Public Assistance staff from FEMA and New York State are available to provide assistance and answer questions.
Knowing and complying with federal, state and local regulations can minimize funding delays, protect New York’s natural and cultural resources, and clear the way for the recovery to begin.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.