Communities across the state affected by severe weather over the last several years will take the lead in preparing for future storms, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Cuomo was at SUNY New Paltz on Tuesday to announce the start of the Ulster County NY Rising Community Reconstruction Planning Committee.
New Paltz is one of 102 municipalities taking part in the program statewide in which local officials and community members will create a stormwater management plan.
The Town and Village of New Paltz are each eligible for $3 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding to implement the committee’s recommendations and eight other communities in Ulster County are eligible for another $27 million in funds.
Cuomo said the committees will adopt a bottom up approach that calls on the affected communities “to tell us how to use the funds.” However, the plans will be subject to a set of criteria and final approval is up to state officials, Cuomo said.
Cuomo cited more frequent and intense weather events as a pressing concern for communities like New Paltz.
“We’ve had five storms in three years and every time they told me ‘don’t worry this is a once in a 100 years storm,’” Cuomo said. “This frequency of extreme weather is here and it’s here to stay, unfortunately.”
The 10 inches of rain that fell during Hurricane Irene crippled New Paltz for several days in late August 2011. The basements of the Student Union and Haggerty Administration buildings were both flooded.
During Cuomo’s talk, a group of about 30 students gathered outside the Student Union Building to call on Cuomo to ban hydrofracking.
“The influx and severity of storms we’ve had is unnatural to this area and is a result of climate change,” fourth-year journalism student Kenny Satterlee said. “Fracking is a huge contributor to that through methane gas and other emissions it causes.”
Some students who attended the protest were unhappy with how Cuomo’s staff and University Police handled their presence.
Satterlee said that University Police would not let student protesters within 50 feet of the Student Union Building.
“The protest was a great showing of civic participation something, that our institution is supposed to cultivate,” Satterlee said.
Jaklin Levine-Pritzer, fourth-year student and president of Oxfam America at SUNY New Paltz, was invited to Cuomo’s event by a faculty member as part of her environmental ecology class.
Levine-Pritzer, who attended the protest before heading to the Student Union Multipurpose room to hear the governor’s presentation said she was repeatedly questioned by Cuomo staff for wearing a T-shirt that said “NY Says No to Fracking.” She said she was asked to turn the shirt inside out.
“I wore it into the event without thinking anything of it. I had no bad intentions in wearing the shirt,” Levine-Pritzker said.
Levine-Pritzer said that after taking her seat she was asked to step outside by a male Cuomo staffer and was allowed to return inside after assuring him that she “wouldn’t cause any problems.”
According to Levine-Pritzker, the same staffer approached her again five minutes later and asked her to turn her t-shirt inside out.
“I told him that, with all due respect, I have a right to wear whatever t-shirt I want so long as it’s not offensive.” Levine-Pritzker said.
Levine-Pritzker was ultimately allowed to stay for the duration of the event.
“It takes a lot to get me worked up, but between being denied our first amendment right to peacefully assemble, and being treated like a criminal at an event I was invited to for being involved in positive things on campus, I left very upset and frustrated,” said Levine-Pritzker.
Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.