2005-04-27 / Front Page

Pataki Vetoes Flood Aid Bill

by john toscano


Damage at flood site last Feburary. Photo Luis RochaDamage at flood site last Feburary. Photo Luis Rocha Lawmakers who sponsored the water main break relief bill in Albany, which was vetoed by Governor George Pataki last week, were back in the state capital Monday morning hoping they could revive the legislation and get the governor to sign it into law.

State Senators George Onorato and Frank Padavan, and Assemblymember Michael Gianaris were hoping they could change the governor’s mind because they felt there was a misunderstanding about how much of the damages from the February flooding in Astoria would be covered by city officials.

The three lawmakers, all sponsors of the bill vetoed by the governor, pointed out over the past weekend that the Bloomberg mayoral administration and city Comptroller William Thompson Jr. are expected to cover part of the damage for the approximately 50 homeowners whose homes were flooded.

In issuing his veto of the legislation last Wednesday, the governor said the Gianaris–Onorato–Padavan measure which passed both houses, was “premature” because city officials had already announced that they would offer compensation to affected homeowners.

But Gianaris (D–Astoria) stated, “It’s my understanding that the city will judge each claim and cover a portion of the damage, not all, as the governor’s veto message seems to indicate.”

Onorato (D–Astoria) added: “Our bill simply seeks to provide homeowners with aid for supplemental damages that may not ultimately be covered by the city or other parties potentially responsible for the water main break.”

Onorato added: “We’re going to try to reintroduce it because the governor’s veto message is a bit off target. Our bill offers a specified amount of ‘set aside’ contingent upon what the city is going to give.”

Padavan (R–C, Bellerose) said, “We have plenty of time to resubmit the bill with modifications, if necessary, to deal with the governor’s concerns.”

The three officials had said that when they arrived in Albany on Monday, they would be contacting the governor’s aides to try to clarify what their bill provides and also how the city aid plan treats the affected homeowners.

They said they felt they had ample time to clear up any misunderstandings and then resubmit the bill and get it passed and signed before the legislative session ends in June.

In fact, Gianaris said he had contacted the governor’s staff as soon as the veto was announced to start the process of trying to get the bill passed again with some minor modification.

The flooding in February had inflicted severe water damage on about 50 homes in the vicinity of the water main break at 70th Street and Ditmars Boulevard.

In the period following the break, with many homeowners confused on where the money to pay for the damage repairs would come from, City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria) proposed that the city take responsibility for the break, pay off on homeowners’ claims and then try to determine whether other parties were responsible for the damage and seek reimbursement from them.

Shortly after, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to proceed along those lines. Homeowners at this moment are submitting damage claims to the city comptroller’s office.

Sometime later, Gianaris put in a bill in the Assembly and Onorato and Padavan submitted the same bill, calling for a state agency to cover some of the damages.

According to Onorato, the Gianaris/Onorato/Padavan bill would have provided State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) grants of up to $50,000 for homeowners affected by the February 16 water main break in Astoria.

The governor’s veto of the bill last week drew sharp initial criticism by Gianaris and Onorato.

Gianaris said in a prepared statement, “For the governor to turn his back on suffering New Yorkers while he leaves no stone unturned to help upstate flood victims is disgraceful. I know Governor Pataki has long since forgotten about New York City, but he is still governor for one more year and should act more responsibly until he is gone.”

Gianaris added, “I will continue to do whatever I can to ensure the flood victims in Astoria can rebuild their homes and their lives without losing tens of thousands of dollars in the process.”

Onorato commented on the governor’s veto: “The governor is wrong in contending that it is premature for the state to establish a fund to aid the victims of the Astoria flooding. Our bill simply seeks to provide homeowners with aid for supplemental damages that may not ultimately be covered by the city or other parties potentially responsible for the water main break.

“It is ironic that this veto came down at the same time that President [George W.] Bush, at the governor’s urging, acted to provide federal disaster aid for homeowners and businesses in 13 upstate New York counties severely impacted by heavy flooding in April.

“While I certainly don’t begrudge these New Yorkers the aid, and while the causes of the water damage were different, the heartbreak and expenses suffered by the Astoria flood victims and their upstate neighbors are clearly very similar.”

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