News10NBC Investigates: NYS uses fine print to revoke flood relief money three years after the flooding

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GREECE, N.Y. — “This is what it looked like not only once but twice. 2017 and 2019,” said Steve Foglia holding up a photo of the flooded parking lot of his restaurant in north Greece.

Foglia’s business was flooded and damaged by high water. But an honest answer three years later got his state aid revoked.

New York State is quick to respond to natural disasters and promise help for people whose homes and businesses are damaged. But there are strings attached in the fine print of the agreements, and News10NBC found out those strings let the state cancel the money or claw it back.

In the Lake Ontario flooding relief, the fine print says businesses have to stay open for up to five years after they get the relief money. So when Foglia shared that he sold his restaurant to retire three years after the flooding, the state said that broke the rules and it pulled his money.

“The water right now is low,” Foglia said pointing to Salmon Creek in Greece. “(The water) came over this bank right here.”

The high water in 2019 flooded Foglia’s restaurant parking lot. The water damaged the pavement and the septic system closing the restaurant down.

After the 2019 flood, Foglia applied for money through the Lake Ontario Resiliency fund. In the fall of 2022, Foglia says he was called by the state and told he was approved.

But in that phone call, Foglia says he told the state that he had just sold the restaurant a week before because of health reasons and so he could retire at 82. He owned the restaurant for 19 years.

“The person on the other end, the Lake Ontario people said — oops, sorry, you can’t collect the money due to being retired, you’re going to retire,” he said.

Brean: “Do you wish you would have kept your mouth shut now?”
Steve Foglia, former owner of The Willow: “Yes and no. I still, I maintained my whole life being honest and I feel I did right.”

In the letter that followed, the state told Foglia that he “breached the agreement” because he violated subsection “i” of the terms of the grant which says the owner “will maintain business operations at the project location for the term of this agreement.”

The term can be up to five years.

These rules aren’t uncommon in New York. There are similar ones for companies that get business tax breaks and students who get the Excelsior Scholarship at SUNY.

But Foglia didn’t cut and run. He spent $45,000 to repair his restaurant after the 2019 flooding and ran it for three years after the floods.

“I didn’t go after them the first time. I never said a word the first time. I took care of whatever I needed to,” he said. “The second time I figured they owed me. They paid a lot of people on Edgemere and they deserved it also. So, yes, I want what’s coming to me.”

The term of the agreement starts when someone gets the first payout. So in that case, Foglia would have had to run the restaurant until up to 2028, when he would be 87 years old.

The state revoked his approval before it sent him any money, so he doesn’t have to re-pay anything.

The state told me Foglia’s case is the only one in Monroe and Wayne counties that has been clawed back.