Federal Relief Coming but More Sought by Snow-Covered Buffalo

A federal emergency declaration will help Buffalo and surrounding counties pay for the worst 48 hours of the recent 7-foot snowfall.

But with a $30 million price tag now hanging on the cleanup, officials are looking for an even bigger commitment from Washington.

An emergency declaration issued by President Bush provides for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse local and state governments for up to 75 percent of the costs of equipment, contracts and overtime related to the cleanup for a 2-day period.

Erie County Executive Joel Giambra said the declaration will send up to $5 million to Erie and Niagara counties.

"This will not be enough," Giambra said, "and we have our work cut out for us in being able to demonstrate and document the additional relief aid that we need."

To that end, highway chiefs were told to tally everything from overtime and private contracting costs to damage caused by plows hitting buried fire hydrants and street signs. The result was the $30 million estimate.

As officials got to work on the paperwork, Giambra idled an army of private contractors to keep from further running up the bill.

"As of noon, based on the fact we've got a pretty good jump on where we need to be right now, and based on the fact that we only received the first phase (federal) designation," Giambra said, "it was prudent right now to not have the contractors incur additional cost without a real ability to pay them."

He said additional crews from the state's Thruway Authority, Transportation Department and National Guard would pick up where the private crews left off. A state force of about 700 has been helping local workers with the cleanup, along with crews from the nearby cities of Rochester and Toronto.

U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., on Wednesday urged FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh to extend the 48-hour declaration.

"As you are aware, the City of Buffalo, City of Lackawanna and numerous towns in Erie County were paralyzed by snowfall and had instituted driving bans substantially past the 48-hour period designated by FEMA," Quinn wrote in a letter.

In five days beginning Christmas Eve, Buffalo was buried under 81.5 inches of snow. After clearing most main roads by New Year's Eve, crews have been working on clearing side streets, widening main roads and clearing away huge snowbanks obstructing the view of drivers.

Snow is being deposited in designated areas throughout the city onto mountains unlikely to melt for months.

"We may have some of them through the summer," said Giambra.

While some snow was dumped into Lake Erie and the Niagara River early on, state environmental officials said the practice had been deemed unnecessary and stopped. Although road salt is not considered an environmental hazard, officials are concerned about debris picked up with the snow being dumped into the water.