Gillibrand backs Schoharie's jail fight
By Jim Poole
Schoharie County picked up a key ally in its fight to move the jail and emergency center out of the Schoharie Creek floodplain.
US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand weighed in on the county's side, urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund a new jail on higher ground.
Senator Gillibrand joined other state and federal leaders who want the Irene-damaged county jail replaced with a facility elsewhere.
Contending that it would be cheaper to repair the jail where it stands, the state FEMA office earlier rejected the county's request to have the jail moved. Bill Cherry, Schoharie County flood recovery coordinator, appealed the case to FEMA in Washington, DC.
Senator Charles Schumer had already sided with the county's appeal by speaking with FEMA officials in Washington.
"Senator Schumer was using his influence in a verbal way in Washington," Mr. Cherry said, "but I realized we had no direct contact with Senator Gillibrand."
He reached her office and faxed a summary of the county's position, which resulted in Senator Gillibrand's letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
"I am concerned that rebuilding the facility in the same location exposes the County to potential future damage due to severestorms and flooding," Senator Gillibrand wrote.
". . .I am renewing my call that FEMA consider the appeal from Schoharie County."
The key issues are cost and potential for future flood damage. Rebuilding the jail where it is would cost $7 million, plus an additional $7 million for flood-proofing. County officials maintain that flood-proofing wouldn't protect the jail from all damage.
A new jail built out of the flood plain would cost $18.7 million and would not leave an emergency center isolated during a flood.
In either case, FEMA would pay the bill.
Senator Gillibrand's letter adds to the support Schoharie County already has.
"I think it's great that both US senators support the county's position," Mr. Cherry said.
"This issue is now on FEMA's radar in Washington. When two US Senators contact Craig Fugate, I think he'll listen."
The county also has letters of support from Chief of State Operations Howard Glaser, DEC Floodplain Management Chief William Nechamen, state Homeland Security and state Emergency Management.
"We have all the big players on our side," Mr. Cherry said.
He added that FEMA has 90 days to rule on the county's appeal but may take longer than that.
"Anything can happen, but I'm optimistic," Mr. Cherry said. "We're making our day-to-day decisions on the assumption that it will go in our favor."