By Ted Waddell
YOUNGSVILLE November 24, 2006 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.
“The Flood of 2006 stands out by a long shot,” said Isaacs, who later noted that a river stage gauge along the Beaverkill measured a flow rate of 31,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the Flood of 1951, while on the June flood it recorded 62,400 cfs.
Brustman said that if debris isn’t removed from above bridges and culverts, the “water backs up and it has to go somewhere.”
According to White, $250,000 is earmarked for a flood mitigation study, and while it was passed in a house bill, senate approval is still pending.
“It’s a multi-tasking effort to address this,” said Dr. Pammer.
He gave a nuts-and-bolts explanation of the proposed county-wide Endangered Property Protection Program (EPPP), in bureau-speak “E-Triple P”.
According to a published flyer about the EPPP, “A major goal of this program is to initiate a local program that mitigates damage to property from natural disasters and preserves farmland and open space.”
A quarter percent increase in the mortgage tax rate would be used to fund the program, which Dr. Pammer said would cost approximately $16 million over a ten year period ($1.6 million annually).
Key components of the proposed EPPP: (1) Acquiring easements and other interests in real property from willing sellers to protect or enhance flood protection corridors and floodplains while preserving or enhancing the agricultural use of the real property and the preservation of open space and wildlife habitats; (2) Performing on-going debris removal and stream corridor restoration; (3) Acquiring interests in real property from willing sellers located in a floodplain that can not reasonably be made safe from future flooding; (4) Acquiring easments and other interests in real property from willing sellers to protect or enhance flood protection corridors while preserving or enhancing the wildlife value of the real property.”
It was noted that about 700 acres in the three local towns are currently being eyed by developers for creating five acre-plus building lots, a factor that would, by all accounts, increase rainwater runoff into local waterways.
Pammer said local town officials have to consider whether or not to permit construction in floodplain areas.
Lake Jeff Dam
Issues regarding the safety of the dam on Lake Jeffersonville were raised, and while some of the panelists said it was safe, dam owner Barbara Gref disagreed about the future safety of the impoundment that provides electricity for hydro-powered public radio WJFF.
According to Gref, the Flood of 2006 washed away about one third of the dam’s face, and the cost of restoration of the privately owned structure is estimated to range from $120,000 to $150,000.
The dam is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and according to Gref since it’s privately owned, federal agencies such as FERC can’t cough up any money to fix it.
“There’s work that needs to be done on it,” Gref said in a brief post-forum interview. “Winter’s coming and winters don’t usually contribute to the stability of dams that are missing part of their spillway faces.”
In a phone conversation with Semenetz, the town supervisor said that on the day of the flood officials issued an evacuation order for Jeffersonville, and that subsequent to an engineer from FERC inspecting the dam at about 8 a.m. the next morning, the dam was declared safe but the engineer said that for the evacuation order to be lifted, material had to be brought in to stabilize the back side of the structure.
“We trucked in about 2,000 cubic yards of gravel from the town stockpile,” he said, noting that flood mitigation efforts are continuing with FEMA, DEC and other agencies.
Gaebel said that trying to control floods was “Like p------g in the wind, and hoping your shoes don’t get wet.”