By Kim Lux
Halloween was spookier than usual for some residents of North East, when a large storm and high winds caused severe damage to lakefront properties on Oct. 31 and into Nov. 1. Residents are now seeking help from Erie County’s Department of Public Safety and looking to get the storm declared a disaster.
Community meetings were held on Nov. 13, at the North East Township building, and Nov. 19, at North East High School, so residents could bring in photos and estimates of damage and ask questions.
“We’re here about the possibility of having the county executive ask the governor for a disaster declaration on the state level, and then of course a federal declaration for funding opportunities,” said John Grappy, director of public safety for Erie County, at the Nov. 13 meeting. “This is what I would characterize as an initial meeting. There will be follow up assessments for damages and determining the value of the property damage.”
A slideshow of photos showing damage to properties along Old Lake and Sunset Beach roads was shown at the Nov. 13 meeting. It was compiled by North East resident Patty Brunner.
“I live in a home that’s been in my family for 50 years,” she said. “I’ve lived on the lake for 11 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. Major damage issues from this storm included, but are not limited to, erosion, break wall and bank devastation, water damage in and around homes, drainage issues, etc.”
According to Brunner the storm caused a seiche — a standing wave in an enclosed body of water. The seiche was causing extremely high waves that went over breaker walls, causing them to pull away from the earth they were nailed into.
“I talked to a couple meteorologists and what occurred on Oct. 31, and into Nov. 1, was a seiche,” she said. “We were under a high wind advisory, with wind gusts at about 60 miles per hour in some areas, and the temperature dropped 30 degrees, compounding with the high lake levels.”
The cost to replace breaker walls and other damage from the storm is high. Property owners are on the hook for the repairs, but a disaster declaration would give them access to low-interest loans and other funding opportunities.
Erie County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Dale Robinson explained the potential disaster declaration would come from the Small Business Administration.
“Even though it’s through the Small Business Administration, local homeowners and property owners are eligible for that program,” Robinson said. “We need to have 25 or more properties that have suffered 40 percent or more in uninsured losses in four categories. That would make us eligible for a disaster declaration.
“The four categories are — the home itself, the contents (your personal property), an economic loss and the fourth is land and improvements,” he added. “The fourth one is what we’re really focusing on. That includes your break walls that washed away, landscaping, sheds, walkways, driveways, etc.”
Robinson added that properties outside of North East that suffered damage from the Oct. 31 storm could be included in the 25 properties.
“Residents in other municipalities can be included in this, too,” he said. “We need to get 25 properties countywide.”
Already, more than 13 property owners have submitted forms indicating that the damage is over 40 percent of the value of the land and improvements.
Robinson said that if the county gets 25 qualified properties and a disaster declaration is made, additional property owners can apply for funding as well.
There is a 60-day window from the time of the storm to request a disaster declaration, which makes the deadline Monday, Dec. 30.
Residents who were unable to attend the meetings but would like to submit a form are asked to call the Department of Public Safety at 814-451-7920 and speak with an emergency management official.