Niagara Gazette

July 1, 2013

Lockport flood damage pegged at $7.2M by city officials

By Joyce Miles
Niagara Gazette

LOCKPORT —

The City of Lockport is claiming public and private property losses of $7.2 million caused by last week's rain storm.

A written estimate was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office on Sunday, to help persuade the governor to declare a state of emergency in Niagara County due to flash flooding from Friday's storm, which dumped anywhere from 2 to 6 inches of rain around Lockport in a few hours. An emergency declaration would open the door to partial federal reimbursement for material losses and municipal spending on storm cleanup and related repairs.

The city's estimate includes $1.2 million in municipal spending and public property losses, and $6 million in residential and commercial property losses due to flooding. Across the city this past Friday night and into Saturday, volunteer and professional firefighters pumped water out of about 600 basements, according to Mayor Michael Tucker. Responders found about 6 feet of standing water in at least 200 cases, he said.

It seems unlikely that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will agree to reimburse most private property losses — the agency reportedly doesn't regard damage in basements as damage to primary structures — but the city included them anyway, just in case.

"You don't know unless you try," Tucker said. "We're talking to our state and federal officials, trying to make the case. It's all we can do."

Property owners who suffered losses because of the storm are encouraged to file notices of claim with the city, to create a record in the event the losses become FEMA-aidable, he said.

The freaky Friday rain storm dumped a record amount of water on the city. The wastewater treatment plant, where storm water and sanitary sewage are cleaned, took in 92.5 million gallons. Before Friday, 85 million gallons was the most the plant ever handled in a rainstorm, Tucker said. Capacity is 80 million gallons and the daily average intake is 7 million gallons.

To those who suspect flooding of streets and basements was caused by deficiencies in the city's aged sewer system, Norman Allen, director of engineering and public works, says "that's just not true."

"There was more rain than the sewers are designed to handle. That's why (flooding) occurred," he said. When localized flooding started, "the first thing (public works) crews did was check storm receivers to make sure they were clear — and most of them were. That wasn't the issue, volume was."

The city's cost to deal with the storm, in terms of dispatching public works employees, police officers and firefighters to respond to various crises, and repairing or replacing damaged public property, is estimated at $1.2 million initially. Among the damages to public property:

• A section of Gooding Street near the wastewater treatment plant remains closed while a seven-foot-deep sinkhole in the pavement is filled and road shoulders are replaced. The stone shoulders were washed away by rain water rushing down the escarpment.

• Paved sections of the Spring and Vine street hills, off Market Street, were washed away. The streets are passable after application of temporary patching, Allen said, but both will need repaving before long.