Democrat Photo By Ted Waddel
AT THE NOVEMBER 8 flood mitigation meeting in Youngsville, Lee Ellmauer shows County Planning Commissioner Dr. William Pammer a stack of photos illustrating how water backs up in what he said are under-sized roadway culverts which then cause water to spill over onto his property. Ellmauer has been an active firefighter in Youngsville for 45 years.
Forum in Youngsville: A Conversation About Mitigation
By Ted Waddell
YOUNGSVILLE November 21, 2006 Sometimes the past really is the prologue.
On Wednesday, November 8, the Youngsville Environmental Preservation Committee (YEPC) hosted a public forum on plans underway to help mitigate future flooding from devastating local communities in the western part of the county.
The Flood of June 28, 2006 claimed the life of Jamie Bertholf, a teenager from Livingston Manor and wreaked havoc in several rural communities such as Manor, Roscoe, Youngsville, Jeffersonville and Callicoon.
Serious flooding has become a major problem in recent years, as more and bigger flood events are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
The panelists: Chris White, legislative aide to Congressman Maurice Hinchey; Steve Wilkenson, legislative aide to NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther; Dr. William Pammer, commissioner, Sullivan County Planning & Community Development; Brian Brustman, district manager, Sullivan County Soil & Water Conservation District; Jack Isaacs, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC); and Larry Larsen, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The forum was moderated by Fritz Meyer, news editor of The River Reporter. Approximately 50 local elected officials and members of the public attended.
While the forum wasn’t organized as a question and answer session, the panelists responded to a series of prepared questions that were recorded during a public survey of concerns about flooding and what could be done to mitigate future flood events.
White said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was a funding agency and not a regulatory agency, and in explaining their absence from the forum said he had been told folks from FEMA would attend mitigation planning meetings.
Isaacs said that most if not all streams in the county were protected, noting that permits are required for any work (other than what can be done by hand) that affects “the bed or banks” of a stream.
“We interpret the law to mean significant alteration of the stream bed or bank… [using] equipment… where the potential for disturbing the bed or banks is great enough to require a permit… it’s rare for a permit to be denied,” he said.
“We try to work with the applicant to get a permittable project,” added Isaacs.
He said DEC has on the books a provision “to deal with an emergency major flooding event” in which a general permit can be issued for the event, allowing local municipalities to take necessary actions to clear obstructed streams.
“If someone calls up and says ‘I’ve got a log jam, and I’ve got to get in their right away,’ we’ll send someone out right away,” said Isaacs.
But according to a lot of local folks, DEC’s idea of “right away” might not be fast enough, as after the meeting they cited the June 28 flood event in Youngsville in which debris backed up above the bridge in town, causing flood water to ravage several business.
On the 28, Town of Callicoon Supervisor Gregg Semenetz risked the wrath of the DEC by ordering several large excavators into the creek to remove the massive logjams and push tons of gravel choking the streambed back up onto the banks to open up the channel so water had a way of getting out of town without creating more damage in this and future flood events.
Rodney Gaebel (District 5 legislator) watched the raging waters almost ruin his son’s business on June 28, as the floodwaters swept through Youngsville Garage and wrecked several cars, tossing them around like matchsticks.
“When you combine the fact that we’ve had some horrendous storms with the fact that rules and regulations governing steams and the management of those streams are tightened up and more specific than they ever were… you combine the issues, you have a major problem,” he said.
Gaebel noted that while the DEC spokesperson said that the agency issues permits in almost every instance, “What wasn’t said tonight was the fact that they may allow you to dredge a streambed, and at one point the streambed was ten feet below the bank, and now it’s a foot below the bank, and they allow you to take six inches of gravel out, what are we talking about?”
“There’s a little bit of a discrepancy, I think, in some of the things that were said tonight,” he added. “I don’t think wholesale dredging is the answer, but there was some history given tonight by Jim Dirie that’s specific to what’s happened here over the years.”
Dirie compiled what he called a “write up” of the history of Panther Rock Brook, based upon The History of Youngsville, as written by Clarence Krantz, Childs Gazetteer.
“On the night of August 1,1855, the waters of the East Branch of the Callicoon Creek and the Panther Rock Brook overflowed their banks in all directions spreading ruin on every side. The family of Adam Killian living above Youngsville, along the Panther Rock, were frightened from their house and took refuge on a large hemlock stump which stood in front of their house and passed the night, waiting for the water to recede.
“As a result of this flood no one would build along the Panther Rock for fear of being washed away. All of the homes that were built up the Shandelee Road were built on hillsides. After many years, people tended to forget and started to again build on the low ground.”
Dirie told the audience that when water power was needed in later years, a series of small mill ponds were created along the brook, and during flood events they served “to hold back the waters… allowing for millions of gallons of water to back up rather than raging down through Youngsville.”
Lacking any maintenance, the mill pond dams slowly failed, until the Flood of 2004 washed away the spillway of Manny’s Pond Mill, the last remaining impoundment. In June ’06, the rest of the walls collapsed.
“It was observed during the 2006 flood that those portions of the remaining mill pond dams still helped to create a buffer to the raging waters, especially Manny’s Pond Mill, since much of that dam wall remained until the flood of 2006,” added Dirie.
He said that while the Flood of August 16,1947 was fueled by 13 inches of rain in four hours (twice that of the 2006 floods event), damage was significantly less because the mill ponds and dams were still there and the streams “were kept clear of gravel and debris.”
According to Dirie, in the wake of the Flood of ’47, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removed gravel from area streams, and as a flood control effort, “dug deep pools at strategic locations to provide a place for the gravel from the next flood or high water to fill in rather than flow downstream and cause problems.”
“If we are going to live along the streams, we need to make the streams safe and maintain these safeguards,” he said. “Perhaps we need to look back to see what worked in the past to eliminate future disasters.”
Gaebel said his family has owned the property on which sits the Youngsville Garage since 1925, and recalls catching trophy trout from a hole dredged six to ten feet deep below the bridge.
But that was then, and in June of 2006 the streambed was just below the bridge, and there was no deep hole for fishing, for firefighters to use in drafting operations or anywhere else for the water to go except back up and flood the town.