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Frustrations Mount
For Residents, DEC

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — April 12, 2005 – The cries from officials, residents and business owners have been like an echo from September.
They want the Department of Environmental Conservation to answer their questions; they want to see the streams and creeks of Sullivan County dredged.
“Our streams are so full of gravel, there’s nowhere for the water to go,” Rockland Highway Superintendent Bowman Owen said. “This is all valuable material that we can use . . . we could dredge it out, and it wouldn’t destroy the beautiful water of these fishermen.”
The materials that are clogging up the creekbeds could easily be taken up and used by the road crews – it might even keep the costs down for highway maintenance, he said.
Acidalia resident Bill Steuber has been “at war” with the DEC since last year when an April flood washed silt from his property into Basket Creek Number Four.
Steuber said he was issued a summons from the DEC for the dirty water because he had previously been doing work on his property.
“Meanwhile I was working 300 feet from the brook,” he said.
The real problem?
“The middle of the property has filled in with silt . . . every time it rains, it washes through my property,” Steuber said. “It’s cutting channels you wouldn’t believe.”
Steuber presented this as the reason for the dirty water and applied for a permit to get into the brook and dredge it.
He just got a permit – a year later – to do work on 200 feet of the brook.
“Of course, now I’ve got 3,000 feet of damage,” Steuber said.
And he’s followed advice from officials – Soil and Water Conservation advised him to add topsoil and plants to prevent further erosion.
“That’s gone now,” he said. “The $1,000 I spent on grass seed and moving all this dirt around is gone.
“The stream where it comes onto my property is 15 feet wider than it was a year ago,” Steuber added.
“They won’t let you dredge when a tree falls into the brook, and the silt builds up around it,” he said. “I’m told I’m not allowed to go near the stream, and in the meantime my property’s history.
“All my topsoil’s somewhere down in the Chesapeake Bay.”
Each time it rains, the problem gets worse and worse, he said.
Owen said the problem can be illustrated pretty easily.
“Fill a glass of water and then drop a stone into it,” he said. “Where does the water go? Over.”
But politicians haven’t looked at this from a logical standpoint, he said.
“They say Mother Nature will put the water where she wants it,” Owen explained.
But if you don’t put a roof on your house, Mother Nature will drop rain right into your home.
“If you don’t maintain your house, you lose it; if you don’t maintain your river, you lose it; if you don’t maintain your roads, you’ve lost it,” he said.
DEC officials said floods are not their fault.
Spokesperson Wendy Rosenbach said the DEC’s only real connection or jurisdiction is in choosing which permits to issue.
“We have to make sure things are done in an environmentally safe way,” she said. “But we will work with people . . . you’ve just got to make sure you do things properly.”
Responding to residents’ complaints that even measures offered aren’t enough, Rosenbach said unfortunately the DEC can’t second-guess Mother Nature.
“It’s unfortunate when you do everything you are told to do,” Rosenbach said. “But I guess some things can’t be planned for.”
Rosenbach said the DEC is there to help.
Since the floods early this month, DEC has announced a general permit for routine repairs of stream damage in Region 3, which covers Sullivan, Ulster, Orange and Rockland counties.
Those “routine” repairs include repair, replacement or clearing of existing bridges, road culverts and appurtenances; removal of flood-deposited debris, such as trees, logs, stumps, brush, trash and similar organic material, from stream channels; installation and repair of rip-rap and other permanent streambank stabilization measures; and clearing stream channels of gravel and boulders with limited removal of gravel bars.
In a statement released last week by the DEC, Marc Moran, regional director for Region 3, said, “Normally, each person who wishes to work in protected streams and navigable waters must individually apply to the regional permit administrator in New Paltz.
"This permit is responsive to the needs of local highway superintendents and riparian land owners following the severe effects of the flooding," said Moran. "The general permit will greatly ease the usual procedures for obtaining a permit while minimizing damage to the stream environment."
To obtain one of the general permits, property owners should contact the Bureau of Habitat Protection at 256-3087 or Environmental Permits at 256-3054 or visit the DEC office at 21 South Putt Corners Road in New Paltz to obtain an application form.
A DEC representative may meet with the applicant on site and make recommendations on how to avoid environmental problems.
Still, some frustrated landowners are calling for more.
Steuber said his experiences since the flood of 1996 have been a disaster.
“We call [the DEC] the Green Gestapo,” he said. “They answer to nobody, and they have a very arrogant attitude.”
“We’re not solving the problem,” Owen said. “We’ve got to put the pressure on the politicians . . . we’ve got to get in the streams.”

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