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Flooding

Roads are covered with water in Moravia July 2.

Two of the biggest news stories this newspaper covered in 2017 happened at opposite ends of Cayuga County at slightly different times, but involved the same general menace: flooding.

Historically heavy rains contributed to significant problems for some small communities within the county borders.

In the spring, Lake Ontario shoreline areas in the town of Sterling and village of Fair Haven were inundated. Major damage mitigation efforts were required, the normally vibrant tourism industry suffered, and local resources were exhausted.

Then summer came around and brought a couple of brutally heavy rain events to communities in southern Cayuga County, with entire neighborhoods under water and important roads completely washed out.

All told, million of dollars in damage hit two areas of the county, areas that have limited resources due to their small populations and tax bases. The repair and recovery work has been ongoing since that time, but much more remains.

Despite this situation, the federal government is saying, as of last week, that it cannot help.

Cayuga County has now twice been denied disaster declarations that would lead to badly needed federal aid for the areas impacted by the adverse weather of the last spring and summer. New York state, with support from local congressional representatives, is appealing the Lake Ontario decision, pointing out a clerical error in the original application. A decision on whether to appeal the decision regarding the southern Cayuga County flooding is under review.

Our hope is that state officials and our delegation representing the county in Washington can work to convince the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reverse course and provide the support that residents in the flood-affected areas of Cayuga County need.

But even if that effort does succeed, every day and week without FEMA support makes recovery more challenging than it should be. That's why we also call on state and federal leaders to review the effectiveness of the current disaster relief system, especially its procedures for gathering information and estimating damage and putting it into a formula to determine emergency status.

On its website, FEMA states its mission is to "support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards."

If the agency's policies are preventing that mission from being fulfilled when disaster hits places like Fair Haven and Moravia, then changes must be made.

The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.

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