Scrambling to react quickly to the devastation wrought by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, the Catskill Watershed Corporation held a special meeting on Tuesday, September 13, to create a grant program to help flood-damaged businesses in New York City's west-of-Hudson watershed rebuild.
In the meeting, the members of the CWC board -- most of whom are supervisors of watershed towns, along with representatives from New York City, New York State and the environmental community -- agreed unanimously to set aside $5 million in CWC Catskill Fund for the Future money for the new flood recovery program.
The grants, which will be limited to a maximum of $30,000 per business and one grant per land parcel, will be available to for-profit businesses to restore buildings that have been structurally damaged. Apartment buildings, trailer parks and other residential structures are not eligible; neither are multi-state franchises or national chains. Also, in order to receive a grant, the business itself must be located inside the New York City watershed line, even if it is already in a town that contains land in the watershed and is a member of the CWC.
At the meeting, CWC staffers told the board that the task of identifying the businesses that would receive grants would fall to town supervisors.
"I imagine the town supervisors are really familiar with what businesses in their town need to get their doors open," said CWC attorney Tim Cox.
The CWC will divide the money between the five counties that contain land inside the New York City watershed, in accordance with the amount of watershed land each county contains. Delaware County, over half of which is inside the watershed, will get $2,573,500. Ulster County will receive $1,029,500, Greene County will receive $931,500, Sullivan County will receive $245,000, and Schoharie County will receive $220,500.
Within each county, it will be up to the supervisors of the watershed towns to agree on how much grant money should be available to each town. And for each town, the supervisor -- in conjunction with the town board -- will identify a list of businesses eligible for grants, and present it to the CWC.
Restricting grant money to businesses inside the watershed, and distributing it to counties according to how much watershed land they contain, is consistent with one of the CWC's main goals: to help lighten the economic burden imposed on watershed towns by New York City-imposed land use regulations and land acquisition. But the flood damage caused by Irene and Lee wasn't confined to the New York City watershed, nor did it strike hardest in counties with a lot of watershed land.
Jim Eisel, supervisor of Harpersfield and chairman of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors, pointed to Sidney as an example.
"Sidney has a plant with 1,200 workers that's underwater. It's outside the watershed," he said.
Rich Parete, an Ulster County legislator who represents Marbletown, Hurley and Olive, pointed out that business districts in several Ulster County towns were struggling with flooding caused by New York City's reservoir system, even though they lie outside the watershed.
"If you look at the town of Marbletown, the city releases water out of the Esopus, and that causes terrible flooding to Marbletown. The town of Rochester. The town of Wawarsing -- Ellenville, Napanoch. Places along the Rondout or the Esopus Creek -- streams that come out of the reservoirs are destroying these towns," he said. "I totally understand the argument, but you're going to eliminate basically every town in Ulster County except Shandaken and Olive from getting any help," he said.
Nonprofits struggling too
Also left out of the grant program are nonprofit organizations, churches, and any residential property used for business, like rental apartments (although damage to a home-based business, such as a home office, may be covered by the program).
Executive director Alan Rosa said that the CWC was looking into ways to help nonprofits as well.
"There are nonprofits that are completely wiped out," he said, indicating the Open Eye Theater, located just across the street from the CWC offices in Margaretville. "We are not only trying to figure out something for the businesses, but the nonprofits as well, for assistance."
Rosa said that the CWC had received inquiries from potential high-level donors about donating to flood relief efforts. At the meeting, the board also approved a resolution establishing a separate CWC business recovery fund, which could accept donations from individuals or corporations.
"We're not trying to take it all over. There's a lot of other people trying to raise money and that's great, the more the merrier," he said. "But this has the potential of raising some real money to do some good."
Correction, 9/14: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Rich Parete as supervisor of Marbletown. He is an Ulster County legislator representing Marbletown, Hurley and Olive. Apologies for the error.
Below: The text of the approved resolution, including definitions of key terms and a description of the program.