Assemblywoman Jenne Calls on State to Assist River Businesses Recover From Flooding Impact

November 14, 2017

Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, is calling on state economic development officials to set aside funding to assist businesses along the St. Lawrence River recovering from the damages they suffered as a result of this year's flooding.

She said tourism-related businesses along the St. Lawrence River saw a significant drop in business as a result of flooding that started in March and continued through late July.

"We were able to put in place a program that provided funding to help rebuild our infrastructure that was lost, including our business infrastructure," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

"But even if we are able reseed that pot of money because we have learned what we compromised on didn't provide the assistance needed to meet the damages - even after we take care of that funding gap, there is going to be a need for our businesses due to the nature of the tourism industry," she noted.

The state Assembly passed legislation co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Jenne in June that established a $90million flood recovery and mitigation grant program. But funding for that program was trimmed to $45 million during the final program negotiations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said in October it was likely additional funding would be needed to meet demand and pledged all eligible applicants would receive financial assistance for physical damages they suffered as a result of flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River this spring and summer.

Assemblywoman Jenne said the high water levels this summer meant tourists found different places to dock their boats, eat and stay while they were in the region.

"There is a ripple impact that will occur for a number of years while these businesses try to rebuild, not only physically but also their clientele," she noted during a meeting Monday of the state Assembly's Small Business and Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry committees.

Assemblywoman Jenne asked Howard Zemsky, president and chief executive officer of Empire State Development, if the state agency had a plan to meet those needs in the coming years.

"Are we looking at providing assistance into the future so we can shore up that sector of our economy?" she asked.

Mr. Zemsky said he would be interested in discussing the issue more with the assemblywoman to determine the best opportunities to meet needs in the coming year.

"Obviously we are focused heavily on tourism. Tourism is key to the North Country economy," he added, noting his agency works closely with hotel operators, visitor bureaus and tourism marketing organizations around the state.

Assemblywoman Jenne suggested tourism-related businesses along the St. Lawrence River also suffered as a result of state policies this past summer that didn't distinguish between flooding issues along Lake Ontario in Central and Western New York and the high water levels in most parts of the North Country.

She said tourism in the Alexandria Bay area, for example, was impacted by a 5 mph no wake zone regulation that was enforced along the St. Lawrence River even after flooding concerns had been abated by late July and early August.

"I believe the businesses along the St. Lawrence River that were negatively impacted by the no wake zones for not just the regular season but also the shoulder season need special consideration," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

"We could look at something specific to help these businesses that essentially saw a large decline in their business this past season," Assemblywoman Jenne suggested during her questioning of Mr. Zemsky.

"We have the flooding issue and the rebuilding issue, but we also had an additional kind of punitive type of impact that was based on an abundance of concern by the state," she said, noting she had previously shared her concerns about the no wake zones with state Department of Environmental Conservation officials.

"If we are going to go with an abundance of concern in shutting down an entire tourism economy for a distinct region of the state, we should also show an abundance of concern for business viability over the next couple of years," she added.