March 25, 2010

Schumer, Gillibrand, Slaughter, Higgins And Brown Urge FEMA To Drop $3m Claim Against Buffalo After Massive ’06 Storm Caused The City To Take Emergency Action

During Storm City Coordinated Response with FEMA Officials; Now FEMA Unfairly Claims City Spent Too Much and Wants $3M from City Taxpayers

Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Representatives Louise Slaughter and Brian Higgins and Mayor of Buffalo Byron Brown announced that they have written a personal letter to the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), William Craig Fugate, asking the agency to drop its outrageous claim against the city of Buffalo for over $3M.  The claim, which stems from the city’s response to a now infamous 2006 storm, the ‘October Surprise’ which nearly shut down the city when trees and power lines were brought down due to high winds, snow and ice. FEMA has recently told Buffalo that it spent too much during the 2006 storm, and it owes FEMA $3M.  This claim comes against the city of Buffalo despite the fact that FEMA worked hand-in-hand with city officials during the storm to coordinate a response, approving the city’s expenses and reimbursing the city in full for the expenses related to this unusually strong October storm. FEMA’s claim comes after performing a flawed audit of the city’s actions which did not properly take into account the severity of the storm and the city’s superb track record of responding to emergencies.

“The city of Buffalo did an excellent job in ‘06 of making sure that the storm did not shut citizens off from critical services like emergency medical care and FEMA’s actions here are outrageous, ” said Schumer, “FEMA should be using Buffalo’s response as a model for other cities, instead of trying to nickel and dime them for actions that FEMA itself signed off on. In a time when budgets across the state are stretched thin, the federal government shouldn’t be asking for money that isn’t warranted.”

“Buffalo should not be penalized for its quick and efficient response during a crisis situation that endangered its residents, especially when they acted under the guidance of FEMA,” said Senator Gillibrand. “If it weren’t for the City’s quick response to the Surprise October Storm, the toll on its residents and properties could have been much worse. Local residents should not be left shouldering all of the costs from this storm. ”

"To punish the city at this time would ignore the gravity of the situation and trivialize the important decisions and actions that were having a direct impact on the people of Buffalo," said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. "It may be hard to remember just how crippling this storm was for the City of Buffalo. I was proud to work with FEMA throughout the storm and its aftermath to provide the emergency services and cleanup that was necessary.  Efforts by the city and federal workers undoubtedly saved lives and prevented further damage."

“FEMA has had no problem collecting millions of dollars from residents in this community through the flawed flood insurance program, yet in our time of emergency need, after following appropriate procedures, Buffalonians are being shortchanged,” Congressman Brian Higgins said. “That’s completely unacceptable and we are here to fight it.”

“I thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, along with Representatives Slaughter and Higgins, for their effort on behalf of the City of Buffalo and for reinforcing for FEMA the reasonable and necessary actions the city took in debris removal following the devastating 2006 ‘October Surprise’ storm,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown. “The impact of that storm on the city and our residents was unprecedented and we were required, due to the real threat of the health and safety of our residents, to quickly and efficiently remove tree debris that had brought down power lines, closed off city streets and damaged residential, commercial and governmental properties across Buffalo. Any comparison between what the city faced and was compelled to do as a result of the storm versus what had occurred in neighboring suburbs would be unfair and inaccurate. Simply, there is no way anyone could compare the impact of the storm in the dense urban setting of the city versus the more spacious and uncluttered neighboring suburbs. I urge FEMA to reassess the findings of the Inspector General’s preliminary audit findings, accept the unified argument of our Congressional delegation and recognize that the City of Buffalo acted appropriately and prudently in response to the unusual and devastating impact of the 2006 ‘October Surprise’ storm.”

In October of 2006, the city of Buffalo was hit with a massive storm that has come to be known as, “the October Surprise.” The storm brought a crushing blow to the entire city- bringing down countless trees, power lines and nearly paralyzing essential services like emergency medical care and emergency first responders. At the time, the city of  Buffalo acted with strong and decisive action to get the city back on its feet and ensure that citizens could still receive emergency services. Buffalo declared a state of emergency which was echoed by the county, state and federal governments. The city worked hand-in-hand with local FEMA officials in order to get critical resources working right away. The unusual nature of the storm required a massive cleanup effort so the city had to hire outside contractors from throughout the country just to get the city back to a functioning capacity. After working with the city during the storm, FEMA approved the city’s expenditures and fully reimbursed the city for the costs of storm and the subsequent cleanup. Later on, FEMA performed an audit of the city’s expenses from the storm but based their audit on the expenses of suburban Buffalo communities whose cleanup needs during the storm were much different than that of a big city, like Buffalo. The delegation’s letter to Administrator Fugate asks FEMA to withdraw its claim against the city.

Schumer added, “Our counties and cities are the first line of defense during a storm or natural disaster so it’s important that FEMA is responsive to their needs. In this case, FEMA is punishing the strong and decisive action that the city of Buffalo took in the face of an incredible storm and it’s 100% wrong.”