Cortland County flood damages surpass $250,000

State Senator James Seward (R - 51st District) tours devastation in Cortland County, standing at the edge of a small culvert in the Town of Solon, which washed out Lapp Hill Road. Neighbors who live up the hill are now detoured on their way home, because officials fear the road may collapse.

Recent rushing waters are responsible for more than $250,000 in damages across Cortland County.

Touring the devastation Thursday, State Senator James Seward and Cortland County leaders are pushing the White House to declare a federal disaster area, so that affected municipalities and property owners receive the help they need.

Though much of the devastation is isolated, the Cortland County Highway Department says it's finding more issues than it expected, as it continues to survey damage along roads.

Debris, caught in brooks, streams and rivers has caused much of the damage, according to Cortland County Highway Superintendent, Don Chambers.

"A lot of our problems have been debris floating down and actually plugging structures up," he explains, pointing to a washed out culvert in the Town of Solon as an example.

The road above the culvert, Lapp Hill Road, is now closed. Neighbors who rely on the road to take them home are now detoured, as crews fear it could collapse.

In some cases, neighbors are driving 20 miles out of their way.

"In a situation like this, it's horrible," says Chambers. "There's been a lot of people who have lost a significant amount of resources, and have had damage to their homes, which is very unfortunate."

In McGraw, village leaders worry an abandoned building on Main Street -- referred to among locals as "The Leaning Tower" -- could collapse onto a Chinese restaurant that sits next door. The restaurant has been closed since water from the Mosquito Creek roared above its banks to flood much of Main Street.

Floodwaters rushed into the pink, abandoned building, rupturing gas lines. You can still see the debris from outside the basement.

"One way or another, that building has got to come down. It's a public safety hazard," says Senator Seward, who represents Cortland County as part of New York's 51st Senate District.

The building has been abandoned for about 20 years, and was recently condemned by the Village.

Leaders hope FEMA funding will cover costs to tear it down.

Seward expects the federal disaster declaration to come any day, which would trigger public assistance from FEMA.

"We are less optimistic on the individual assistance program of the declaration. If we cannot convince the federal government to come in with that type of help, I know the governor is interested in having a special session of the Legislature," says Seward.

Should that happen, the state would need to figure out how to help individual property owners make necessary repairs, such as replacing their furnaces, hot water heaters and other items claimed in the flood damage that insurance will not cover.

Once neighbors are back on their feet, Seward says the conversation needs to shift to a long term focus on how we can avoid potential future flooding issues.

"We need to take an overall look at what we can do to avoid this flooding in the future," he says.

In the case of the Lapp Hill Road culvert, that means replacing the smaller culvert with a larger one, which would be able to hold more water, to avoid road washouts.

"We used to think in terms of these floods are '100 Year floods,' but these floods are coming every few years," Seward says. "We need to look at what we can do to with projects that will help us to avoid these problems, because it's pretty clear that we're in both a weather pattern and a climate change pattern that these weather events are happening more often. We need to react and respond to those, for the protection of public infrastructure and property owners.

"If there is any silver lining in these dark clouds we've seen here in the last few weeks over Central New York, hopefully this is going to spur action in terms of additional flood mitigation projects that will help us to avoid these problems going forward," Seward says.