SCHUMER URGES FEDS TO REVERSE COURSE AND AGAIN APPROVE FUNDING CONSTRUCTION OF NEW KEENE FIRE STATION IN THE WAKE OF DEVASTATING FLOODING LAST FALL – CALLS ON FEMA TO DELIVER FUNDING FOR RELOCATION & EXPANSION OF FLOODED SAFETY FACILITY, NOW IN DISREPAIR, ONE YEAR AFTER TROPICAL STORM IRENE
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged top officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reverse course and approve the town of Keene’s plans to relocate their fire station on higher ground, after it was destroyed in flooding during Tropical storm Irene. The Keene Fire Station was destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene last August, and subsequently FEMA approved the relocation and expansion of the 3,000 square foot station in order for the town to build a 5,000 square foot station at an elevated site. Keene Fire Department officials sought to expand the facility in order to adhere to federal standards on the construction and relocation of new fire stations. After FEMA told Keene officials that the relocation and expansion proposal was approved as recently as last month, the agency suddenly revoked their approval this August because the expansion was not adopted into New York State law. FEMA’s revocation of the funding for the new site could prevent Keene from commencing construction this week as originally planned, and could set back the construction of a new station an entire season. Schumer highlighted in a call with top FEMA officials that Irene damaged the original station to a point of disrepair, and Essex County is now left vulnerable without a fire station in Keene. At present, Keene firefighter’s must keep safety vehicles and apparatus in barns throughout the town, instead of a central location. Schumer stated that the new station will cost approximately $500,000 and FEMA should immediately approve this project so that Keene does not miss out on this construction cycle and put residents and fire safety officials at risk.
“FEMA must prioritize the safety of Keene residents and step up to the plate with immediate relocation assistance for the Keene Fire Department,” said Schumer. “One year after the devastating flood ruined the firehouse, the fire trucks are still being stored in barns and garages all over town. Even one more day Keene going without a fire station is too many, and the federal government needs to provide the resources for a permanent solution for the Keene Fire Department’s relocation. Keene has been forced to delay vital construction on a new fire station, and the town should not shoulder the cost of relocation. FEMA must provide immediate assistance for the expansion of a new Keene Fire Department, which will help safeguard the local residents the next time an emergency strikes.”
On his call, Schumer highlighted that the Keene Fire Department’s station was destroyed last year after Irene, with the ground so severely eroded that it is no longer possible to build on the current site. In July, FEMA agreed to relocate the station and expand the size of the facility, from roughly 3,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet. As a rule, FEMA will approve the expansion of a facility during a relocation when it’s to bring a facility up to code. However, in August FEMA removed its approval for the relocation and expansion of the facility, taking away about $300,000 from the project worksheet. FEMA has since stated it will not relocate the facility because it’s not in the flood plain and has refused to pay to expand the because they say the expansion is based on a standard, not a code in New York State law.
Schumer highlighted that this FEMA determination is completely unacceptable, and could cause Keene to miss the already short window for construction on a new facility this year. He highlighted FEMA has recognized a variety of national standards as applicable toward the replacement, relocation or restoration of facilities – even if they are not formally adopted by local or State governments. For example: FEMA has accepted National Electrical Manufacturers Association standards for repair or replacement of electrical equipment even when these were not adopted as official state codes. As recently as July, FEMA told Keene that expansion was approved, and therefore highlighted the critical need to return to the original agreement and relocate and expand the facility.