The Office of the Governor of the State of New York

10/02/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 10/02/2019 13:32

Governor Cuomo is a Guest on WXXI Radio with Evan Dawson

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on WXXI Radio discussing the progress of the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI).

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

Evan Dawson: This is connections. I am Evan Dawson. Some news from the New York State Government, the REDI Commission co-chairing an issue letter to Lake Ontario municipalities providing some update now on some of the progress. There have been all kinds of questions about people who have been dealing with flooding all along the shores of Lake Ontario. Governor Cuomo has had a lot to say about that and he is back with us now to give us an update. Governor Cuomo thanks for the time. How are you sir?

Governor Cuomo: Very good thanks. It is good to be with you Evan.

Evan Dawson: Why don't you start by laying out for us what the latest is? And we'll work through sort of how this is going to be applied. Go ahead.

Governor Cuomo: Okay. You know so many of the issues that we deal with today are cases of first impression - that we just haven't been here before. The Lake Ontario situation is one of those cases. We have had record flooding on Lake Ontario. A couple years ago we went through record flooding. They said well this is once in 500 years. Two years later we had the same record flooding. The IJC is a commission that is supposed to be regulating the water and we have had all sorts of tension with them and we are pursuing actions against them. But in the meantime, I think everyone agrees that it would be a fool's errand to dismiss this flooding as an episode and accept it as a new norm if you will. In the past, we spent funds to do emergency repairs assuming that this was never going to happen again. Common sense and prudence now dictates that we do expect flooding in the future, and rather than doing intermediate repairs let's make the shoreline more resilient. Let's improve the shoreline anticipating higher levels in the future so we don't go through this every couple of years. And that is what the initiative is all about. REDI stands for Resiliency and Economic Development. How do you make then shoreline more sustainable for future growth? And it has never been done before and we spent months, literally, working with local communities. The state made a record 300 million dollars available, which I believe is a bona fide investment because I would rather spend 300 million dollars to improve the waterfront rather than spending 200 million dollars every year in repairs.

And we have been working with the local governments and hearing their concerns and we made adjustments to the approach after consultations. Number one, they want a separate fund for private homeowners and we are doing that. The primary homeowners will receive priority - people who live in the home fulltime - if there is additional funding we will also fund secondary homeowners, vacation homes, summer homes, et cetera. The local governments were required to put in a 15 percent financial match, meaning if the state was going to invest in a project that the local government was recommending we were asking them to put in 15 percent of the amount. The point of that, Evan, is the local government is recommending a project, they know the projects better, we want to make sure there's a bona fide public purpose, we want to make sure this is a real priority, and the way the State does that is by saying to the local government in essence we want you to invest also and we want you to have skin in the game and if it's so important we want you to invest along with us. So the principle of having the local government invest I think is very important. They complain that the 15 percent is too high, I understand that, so we're going to drop the 15 percent to five percent for the local match from the local government but it'll still get us the local government investing in the project and bringing the responsibility that the investment brings along.

And they also had a concern that there are private businesses that need investment capital to make the business more resilient - marinas, restaurants, etcetera - because if the businesses suffer then tourism suffers and there's less tax revenue, sales tax revenue for the local government, so we're establishing within that a fund of $30 million for private businesses.

Again, the local governments will have to match those grants to make sure it's a proven investment, so the consultations worked. Again, we've never done this before and we're all learning and we're all feeling our way but I'm confident in the purpose which is this is a new norm, there are new weather patterns whether we like to admit it or not and rather than just wait for the next flood let's make the structural changes that we need to make so we don't go through these annual crisis situations of homes and businesses being disrupted.

Evan Dawson: So a couple other questions because time is going to go quickly here Governor. Number one, why should vacation homes that have been damaged received any taxpayer support?

Governor Cuomo: Well, that was the debate and we said our priority is for primary homeowners, people who live in the homes. There was a lot of pushback saying, look, the vacation homes, the weekend homes, these are not necessarily affluent families either and they don't have the funds to repair their quote on quote vacation home, and we understood that and we said, 'fine. Prioritize the primary homeowners to the extent there are funds available and people meet the financial criteria.' We're not rebuilding, we're not providing repairs for wealthy families, there are financial criteria. We would fund secondary residences.

Evan Dawson: Okay, I haven't had a whole lot of time to study what all of this announcement means. Some reporters who have spent more time than I have with it are evaluating it, Governor. And what they see is it looks like the pot of money itself has not actually increased, but money has just been moved around. Is that accurate or inaccurate?

Governor Cuomo: That's accurate. The fund is $300 million. And the question was, and the purpose of the consultations, what is the best investment of those funds and who should be eligible? Should the secondary homes be eligible? And what should the local government match be? Should private businesses be eligible? But there was never a discussion about increasing the amount of the fund, it was the eligibility for the fund, and the conditions within eligibility for the funds.

Evan Dawson: So in other words, this is an announcement that says you've analyzed the best way to use that $300 million based on information you've received from the local municipalities and people who are on the ground and they're saying, 'this is the best way to divvy it up.' Is that fair?

Governor Cuomo: Yes and in essence they're saying the 15 percent match was too high, we're lowering it to five. Private businesses should be available and eligible to private businesses and secondary homeowners should be eligible and we said after primary residences receive a priority.

Evan Dawson: Okay, so why not increase the overall amount of the fund?

Governor Cuomo: First of all, there is not a suggestion that we need overall more money. The question was the eligibility and the match. And $300 million is more money than the state has ever spent for anything like this. There's no federal participation. This is all us. I think it's a prudent investment because otherwise we wind up paying for these repairs every time a storm hits, which is now every two years. But, the $300 million is the largest investment of its kind.

Evan Dawson: Fair enough. Now Governor in the last couple of minutes here, you have been clear in your warning or at least you're urging all residents, business owners, et cetera along the lake to consider the fact that we're now in a world where they should prepare for and expect future flooding. It's one thing to say that when people are trying to rebuild or deal with this kind of flooding. It's another for you to say we're at the point, and I haven't heard you say this and I want to ask you if you are willing to say this, do you think people want to move? And I mean to the extent that they can, move away from Lake Shores if they can?

Governor Cuomo: No, I don't think they should move. I think they should anticipate a repeat of the high water level and prepare for it. Now, in a lot of cases that has different ramifications. If you're a private marina then you have to raise docks and that's expensive. If you're a homeowner it can be as simple as putting dunes in front of your residence, right? A natural blockage. More marshlands, restoring a lot of, frankly, what we took away. Mother Nature had resiliency built in. She did it very well. We came along and deconstructed Mother Nature's resiliency is the problem. It's not that there weren't floods in the past, it's just that we took down Mother Nature's resiliency barriers and now we have a problem. So, a big part of the resiliency is just restoring the natural parts that were there.

Evan Dawson: The Governor reminding us that, as I let you go Governor, applications for primary residences are going to be accepted now through the end of this month. Is that correct?

Governor Cuomo: Sounds correct to me, Evan. And I wouldn't disagree with you on the air.

Evan Dawson: I think that's what your office is telling me. So, if you're a primary residence homeowner through October 31st, the damage has to have been sustained from January 1st this year through September 30th. Governor Andrew Cuomo with this announcement. Thanks for joining the program. Always good to have you, Governor.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Evan.