By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO April 22, 2005 Overall damage from one of the worst floods in Sullivan County history was assessed by Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner Richard Martinkovic on Thursday in front of the Sullivan County Legislature.
The presentation was held during the Public Safety Committee meeting, chaired by Leni Binder.
Binder stated that, together with Town of Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Levine and Town of Neversink Supervisor Georgianna Lepke, she had met with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection over accusations that the Neversink Reservoir had a malfunctioning valve which was not fixed before the floods, allegedly causing the Neversink River to overflow worse than it should have.
The Town of Fallsburg was one of the worst-hit communities in the county, with Foxcroft Village, a large residential neighborhood in the shadow of the Neversink Reservoir Dam, losing several homes. Town of Fallsburg Building Inspector Allen Frishman has had to condemn several homes at Foxcroft.
Binder, who made clear that she was speaking as an independent legislator, said that there could be several lawsuits against the DEP, which she said agreed there could have been better communication.
The legislator reported that DEP officials admitted that one of the tunnels had repairs ongoing and that the reservoirs were not built for flood control but for New York City drinking water.
DEP Spokesman Ian Michaels confirmed this week that both valves at the Neversink Reservoir had, in fact, been out of commission since January, while they underwent equipment replacements that were scheduled three years in advance. The repairs were not completed until April 11, a week after the flooding.
Without the valves in operation, the Neversink Reservoir could not discharge water from the Neversink into a tunnel that leads to the Rondout Reservoir, which sends water to the Delaware Aqueduct for drinking water use by New York City.
Michaels said he did not believe the work on the valves contributed to the flooding. He said the reservoir would have been filled to capacity, just as the Pepacton and Cannonsville reservoirs were (which also feed the Rondout but did not have ongoing valve work).
Michaels said the DEP could not be held accountable for the actions it planned three years in advance, since officials could not predict what the weather conditions would turn out to be.
Before the DEP shut down the valves for the replacement work, it drew out as much water as possible to maximize its usage, said Michaels.
In addition, Michaels pointed out that without the reservoirs presence the flooding probably would have been worse. Plus, all releases of water are governed by a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decree that requires advanced consent from the four states that border the Delaware River (into which the Neversink feeds).
Currently, the DEP is drawing 270 million gallons a day from the Neversink for drinking water use. Both valves are now fully operational. The work totaled $1.3 million, said the spokesman.
County Damage at $22.1 Million
The Neversink, of course, wasnt the only part of the county to experience flooding. Martinkovics presentation estimated total countywide flood damage at $22.1 million and noted that over 300 residents were evacuated from their homes. His report from the National Weather Service disclosed 2.5-3 inches of rain between Saturday afternoon and Sunday, although the rain began earlier in some sections of the county.
According to his numbers, the Village of Liberty surprisingly reported the largest amount of public infrastructure damage at $2,000,000 but with no individual property owner damage listed. Second was the Town of Mamakating at $1.5 million and another $1 million in private property damage. The Town of Thompson reported $750,000 in public damage and $2.3 million in private damage. The Town of Fallsburg submitted a damage estimate of $1,065,000 in public property damage and an additional $1.7 million in private property damage.
If and when FEMA responds, Martinkovic warned that they will not accept digital pictures of damage as evidence, due to the possibility of fraud.
In response to the outcry of people who suffered damage in last years flood that they received little assistance at all from FEMA, Martinkovic said the agency is not an insurance company. It will only reimburse individuals partially for what it considers to be necessary, although it can offer loans.
In Other Legislative Business
Local veterans are looking for legislative support for a $1.9 million housing facility and one-stop shop for other veteran services. The presentation was made by Joe Czajka, the community development and grants supervisor, during the Veterans Committee meeting.
The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development requested an additional $25,000 in county funds to pay for half of the cost of a Business Expansion Specialist. The organization currently receives $75,000 annually from the county for its work in attracting businesses to the area. The partnership fundraises for its other monies.
The legislation was stalled, as some of the legislators expressed concern that the partnership, the Sullivan County Visitors Association and the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce should be working closer together. Legislator Ron Hiatt suggested more consolidation. The visitors association receives $800,000 annually from the county.