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FEMA and the State Require Additional Review of Orange County Government Center Plans

Steve Neuhaus, the Orange County Executive, recently claimed to have been “blind-sided” by a mandatory FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) review process, and said it could halt the $77 million renovation of the Orange County Government Center.

The review requirement, which county officials and press described as “new,” “last-minute,” and “a bombshell,” is actually widely known and accepted practice. Pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, a federal review is required whenever federal funds are used for a project affecting a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places or deemed eligible for listing. The building was found eligible for the National Register by the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in August 2011, which is a matter of public record. The use of FEMA funds by the county would therefore clearly require a review.

In August 2012, FEMA awarded over $3.6 million to Orange County to repair water damage to the OCGC. Early in 2014, the County Legislature approved a plan to renovate the building calling for demolition of about 1/3 of the building with extensive alterations to the remaining 2/3 and announced that demolition would begin on August 2. When the county first met with FEMA and the NYHPO in late May 2014 to discuss the proposed new plan, they were informed of the need for further review because of the substantial change in the scope of the work.

According to a June 13 article in the Times-Herald Record, the county is now rethinking the project. County Executive Neuhaus stated that “at this time all options are on the table.” He also said that an offer to purchase the OCGC has been made by a private buyer.