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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 13, 2011

After questions unheard last week,
Answers forthcoming now on FEMA aid

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Tropical Storm Irene devastated the small, rural hamlet of Preston Hollow, but help may be on the horizon.

Richard Keith of the Federal Emergency Management Agency came to Tuesday night’s town board meeting in Rensselaerville to answer questions from residents.

Board members Robert Bolte and Marion Cooke had previously written a letter to the rest of the board and the highway superintendent, calling for a special meeting last Monday to discuss the needs of Preston Hollow residents.

At the Oct. 3 meeting, after an update on roadwork, and a vote to declare the town board as lead agency in managing the aftermath of Irene, Conservatives Bolte and Cooke wanted to open the floor to the public, but the motion was defeated by the board’s Democratic majority, made up by council members Jack Kudlack and Gary Chase, and Supervisor Marie Dermody. Residents were not allowed to ask questions or make statements at the meeting.

Said Dermody after Bolte’s motion, “I don’t have a problem with that, but you need to know that, until we make these phone calls, and start ‘lighting a fire,’ we’ve told you everything we have.”

“Well,” replied Bolte, “Maybe they haven’t told us what they want.”

Said one man in the crowd, “I think that a lot of people were under the assumption they’d be able to come here and voice their opinion about the situation they have around their house, and I think the town board owes that to the people sitting in this room, regardless of what the town board thinks.”

Dermody replied that the town has no authorization to perform work on private property. Some audience members walked out during the exchange.

According to Robert Freeman, director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, town boards are not legally required to allow for public comment at meetings.

“Most, however, do, within reasonable limitations,” Freeman told The Enterprise.

Responding to the circumstances surrounding last week’s meeting, Freeman went on, “Normally, I wouldn’t editorialize, but I will in this case. After a natural disaster, wouldn’t the governing body of the town want to hear the points of view and the questions raised by people whose homes, in many instances, were either badly damaged or destroyed?”

This, he said, is how a “responsive and responsible” government should behave.

FEMA update

Keith told the crowd at Tuesday’s town board meeting that municipalities in Albany County will have a better idea of what funding they will be getting by the beginning of next week, once kickoff meetings begin.

“They’ll be able to give you an idea of what’s eligible, and what’s not eligible, for the spring funding,” Keith said of FEMA. “We’re here; we’re just trying to get geared up.”

“One of the biggest issues is the restoration of the Catskill Creek,” Dermody told Keith, “because of the damage done to personal property. Some of these people have lost pretty much their whole backyards — the creek is their backyard. And, the concern is, what happens with significant rainfall, and snowmelt, other than the fact that it’s going to further damage and jeopardize their property?”

A brief conversation between Keith and Valerie Lounsbury, a resident of Preston Hollow, clarified for the crowd what assistance FEMA is able to provide in relation to the loss of personal property.

“I believe that there is a misunderstanding about the interpretation of ‘personal property,’” Lounsbury told Keith. “FEMA does not pay for personal property to be restored, but you do pay for the work to be done to protect personal property. That is what was explained to me today.”

Keith confirmed Lounsbury’s understanding of the FEMA policy, and reminded the crowd that eligibility for funding will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“A FEMA project specialist, along with his [public assistance coordinator], and also a debris expert, will be coming out here to take a look at that,” said Keith. “And, I’ll make it a priority — first thing on the list — that they get up to the Catskill [Creek] and take a look at that.”

Keith said later that individuals should call 1-800-FEMA to register.

“We need the stream banks restored and stabilized to protect our property,” Lounsbury said later, “because there’s no point in us investing our money to repair our homes and our property to have it happen again in six months.”

The town should also identify what historical structures were damaged in the storm, as these may also be eligible for funding, Keith said. Acting Highway Superintendent David Potter told Keith that these buildings had already been identified.

Highway worker Randall Bates asked Keith if he could provide an estimate as to when the town would be reimbursed for storm repairs. Keith said that he could not, but that the town would receive a letter of notification when its funding is approved.

Councilman Chase asked, “Will they fix the stream to the pre-existing state that it was, or can it be modified in any way?”

Keith said that FEMA was open to suggestions from the town, based on its knowledge of the landscape, and that such modifications would also be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Chad Jemison, executive director of the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve, asked about aid for small businesses.

“We’ve been told we have to go through the Small Business Administration to apply for a loan, and then be denied from that before we can apply for FEMA funds,” Jemison said. “Are you aware of any other programs?”

Keith said that this and other questions would be answered at the kickoff meetings beginning next week.

Dermody told the crowd that expenses incurred by ambulance squads and fire departments are eligible for reimbursement.

Other business

In other business at its Oct. 11 meeting, the town board:

— Heard a letter read aloud from a resident, reporting of repeated burglaries in town. The Albany County Sheriff’s Department has made an arrest, Dermody said, but the burglaries are still under investigation. The letter writer, who was not named, proposed the creation of a neighborhood watch;

— Rescheduled its regular November meeting for Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m.;

— Scheduled its public hearing on the town’s 2012 budget for Thursday, Nov. 11, at 6:30 p.m., just before the board’s regular meeting;

— Scheduled four public budget workshops, to take place on Tuesday, Oct. 18; Thursday, Oct. 20; Tuesday, Oct. 25; and Thursday, Oct. 27. Each hearing will take place at Town Hall, starting at 7 p.m.; and

— Voted to allow the hiring of part-time highway worker Doyle Shaver for an additional month. He is set to work 30 hours a week, and a maximum of 150 hours. Shaver has already been employed for 14 weeks, and the job was not advertised.

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