Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on WXXI with Randy Gorbman.
A rush transcript of the Governor's interview is available below:
Randy Gorbman: Let me start off first, Governor I know you've been really trying to make your rounds and getting the word out about the danger of the lake flooding along the south shore of Lake Ontario. Where do we stand now and where do we stand in terms of the State response right now?
Governor Cuomo: Well the lake is now at flood level. What we're now fearing is Mother Nature will send some wind our way or more rain and it's actually the waves now that would create the flooding, because the lake is at flood level. So, if the wind picks up and there are waves, we're going to have a problem. We had a State emergency declaration yesterday, which does several things. First, practically it reduces to speed limits within 1,000 miles of the shore to five miles per hour for boat traffic, because boat wakes would only exacerbate the problem; it also gives us more ability to work with local governments and private landowners and accelerate some procurement. We've done hundreds of thousands of sandbags, we have pumps deployed all across the shoreline, it's about 400 miles of shoreline. We're purchasing more temporary dams, what they call aquadams, which are a new product because of these climate change problems that have come up, which is a nine foot wide, four foot high water barrier that can be filled and operates as a temporary dam. And we're working with local governments to get ready. We went through some of this in 2017 so we know the areas that are prone to flood first and we're doing everything we can to get ready. Obviously Mother Nature at the end of the day wins, but we're doing everything we can to get ready.
Randy Gorbman: Sure. Governor, I know it's hard to predict, as you mentioned with the wind and weather factors, things like that, but the fact that we have gone through this unfortunately just a couple of years ago, aren't we better prepared? I mean, might any damage we see be somewhat muted because of the steps that the State and the various communities along the lake have taken since then to maybe make it a bit easier this time around?
Governor Cuomo: We are better prepared for a disaster but there's no way to really prevent the disaster from happening. And if it does happen again, yes, we'll be better prepared to handle it. But I think it'll also be a point in time when we're going to have to think of a new strategy. You know, they tell me all the time this is a one-in-a-hundred-year flood except we have five one-in-a-hundred-year floods every year. So we have to recalibrate and this was two years ago and now it's again this year and the IJC which is a regulatory body says there's nothing they can do.
It's a function of the climate and the extreme weather. If, and I'm still hoping Mother Nature gives us a break, but if we do go through this again I think we then have to take a different look at what we do in the aftermath and you can't just continue to build on the shoreline and not expect the floods to happen in the future. And that will cause us to come up with a different reality that we're planning for and, should we replace the home or should we build the home back differently? Should it be raised, should it be on stills, should we put up other barriers along the shoreline understanding this is a new reality? This is the new normal and let's prepare for it.
Randy Gorbman: Governor, if that happens, and I know you've been talking about that a bit today in terms of how people rebuild, can the state have some impact in terms of maybe actually deciding whether some homeowners get aid or not if they don't follow certain guidelines in terms of how they rebuild?
Governor Cuomo: Short answer is yes. We would do it with the local communities and it's really common sense. Look, we spent $100 million to rebuild after the 2017 flood. The same places that we rebuilt may very well get affected by this flood. What sense does that make? You know? Once you come to the recognition of the reality that this is now a recurring situation it's insanity to then continue the old course of conduct. But, hopefully, first of all, we don't have the same situation as 2017. I'm an optimist, otherwise I couldn't do this job. But, if it does happen, yeah I think we have to take a beat, we have to take a pause and work with the local communities and say rather than just spending millions to rebuild and be in the same situation, let's take a different look.
Randy Gorbman: Governor, we have had some concerns expressed by some of the business owners, especially in the Sodus Bay area in Wayne County, worried about all the publicity about the lake will keep people away, not only for the foreseeable week or two but, you know, maybe into their important summer season. Are you having any of those concerns in terms of how things turn out for a lot of these commercial operators along the lake for the entire summer?
Governor Cuomo: Look, there's already been an economic impact. Many of the businesses are flooded, you know if they're along the shoreline there. And I've been visiting communities over the past several weeks, the water is over the docks, et cetera. So there's already an economic impact. I don't think it has anything to do with the publicity. People look out the window and they see the water coming over the wall, you know, the situation is obvious. So, there's no danger for people who would come to use the lake, you know, people are fishing, the fishing is actually great so far this season. And if you come to enjoy the lake there's just more of it to enjoy. But, if you're a business that is physically impacted by the flooding that's obviously a problem. And that's happening to a lot of businesses.
Randy Gorbman: Sure. And I know you've been obviously very vocal about the action of inaction, as some people put it, of the board that is run by the International Joint Commission. As you know, they just recently appointed, finally appointed or confirmed the new members from the U.S. side and the Canadian side as well. Have you had any conversations with the Chairperson from the U.S. side, former Assemblyperson Jane Corwin? And or do you expect any relief to happen because of the new IJC makeup here?
Governor Cuomo: Well, I think this is good news. We have a New Yorker on the IJC, and the reason I have been speaking up is because I represent the people of New York and I understand the concerns of Canada and the other communities, but I fight for New Yorkers. That's my job. I think having a New Yorker on the IJC is going to be a big improvement. I understand their frustrations also. Because they're dealing with a lot of communities and there has been a change in the weather pattern, but I think we just need clarity. If the IJC's position is, the volume of water is much higher and it cannot be effectively regulated, then say that. And then let Canada and let New York and the other states figure out how to deal with it. But I still don't understand why they don't release more water earlier in the season. They know we're going to have this problem in the spring. They know in May when the snow melts with the increased rain we're going to have this problem. So I just want clarity on the situation and if they say, look, it's a force of nature and we can't do anything, even that would be welcome because then we know what we're dealing with. But I've never heard an effective answer and I don't understand why they can't release more water sooner. I understand that inconveniences some other interests, but we had, after 2017, we had 3,000 homes damaged. That's thousands of people's lives, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. And that was only two years ago. And we are in the same place again. And if the wind picks up, it will be 2017 flood all over again. So we need an answer and we need a solution. And that's what I'm looking for from the IJC or we'll take matters into our own hand and we'll understand that this is going to be a reoccurring problem and then let's plan for that. Sodus Point, these communities that get hit over and over again—let's have an honest conversation and if this is going to be the situation going forward, then let's modify our thinking and our plans and redesign and build for a different future.
Randy Gorbman: Governor, thank you for joining us and hopefully it won't be as bad as a lot of folks think, but we'll keep in touch.
Governor Cuomo: If I can figure out how to stop the wind, then we'll really be in good shape. Thanks for having me.
Randy Gorbman: Thank you very much.