Jeanne Sager | Democrat
LANDOWNERS AND OFFICIALS listen to Senator John Bonacic, far right, weigh in on the flooding situation in Youngsville.
Reaction to floods: action, not studies
By Jeanne Sager
YOUNGSVILLE The faces at the table were familiar. The subject too.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. State Senator John Bonacic. Representatives from the towns of Callicoon, Delaware, Cochecton and Fremont and Village of Jeffersonville. Officials from the Sullivan County Soil and Water District.
On the firing line a man representing the New York State Department of Conservation.
They were all in Youngsville late Thursday morning to talk about flooding and what can be done.
And the message was clear: “We don’t want more studies. We want action.”
As District 1 Legislator Dave Sager pointed out, an almost identical gathering was held in the backyard of his flooded business in the Village of Jeff three years ago, and nothing has happened in the meantime.
“Each time there’s a flood event, someone says we have to act,” Sager noted. “We haven’t even begun the ridiculously expensive study that was supposed to address our needs.”
The meeting itself was called by the Town of Callicoon, where floods on July 30 and 31, followed quickly by floods on Aug. 2 and 10, have decimated sections along the Callicoon Creek.
In Youngsville, where Supervisor Linda Babicz ordered equipment into the creek to make emergency repairs, the most recent evacuations were prompted by less than an inch of rain.
That, board members say, is because the equipment was ordered OUT of the creek by the DEC, which arrived on Aug. 4, in the midst of work approved by the town board.
According to Supervisor Linda Babicz, they were only doing work of a type OK’d by the DEC after previous floods. In fact, the last time the town was sanctioned for doing work in the streams, the DEC required they hire a private engineer for $50,000 to draw up remediation plans. The DEC then required changes to those plans, and a $300,000 project. The results of THAT project, which were completed in 2008 two years after the flood are now gone. They all washed away in the most recent floods.
After taking DEC officials and the state representatives on a tour of some of Youngsville’s hardest hit spots, including those where the DEC has put its foot down on proposed flooding mitigation, Babicz opened a public comment session at the Youngsville Firehouse.
Residents packed the chairs in the late morning meeting, although a limited time frame due to the state legislators schedules meant only a few comments were made.
But they carried a common theme: let us into the brooks.
“I seem to remember when I was a young boy that we have a right to defend our homes,” said resident Jason Gaebel. “How about letting us?”
“Public safety is increasingly compromised with each rain event,” Babicz said. “The current flooding conditions leave our communities financially unsustainable.”
Bonacic and Gunther both took the floor, promoting projects in their separate legislative bodies that have been put forth to address flooding in New York State’s counties. Even as they pointed fingers at the other’s sector of the legislature, they apologized to the community for politics getting in the way of a very real problem.
“People, safety and home are more important than fish,” Bonacic said to applause.
He placed blame on the Spitzer administration for tying the hands of the DEC, making it a regulatory body with little manpower to regulate.
Gunther called for the DEC to look into a proposal by Sager, which would provide more power to the local Soil and Water Conservation District, which is already charged with drawing up plans for local residents’ stream remediation projects. At the moment, those plans need to be approved by the DEC before being put into action although the districts have more power in other parts of the state.
DEC Natural Resources Supervisor Bill Rudge also pledged his support to help the town, but his promises fell short of specifics. Sager’s suggestion is something he can pass on, he said. Speeding up the approval process for permitting is something he can “look into.”
The meeting ended with the town equipment still outside of the brooks, albeit with Rudge’s promises to look into the hot spots in town.
Whether the results will be as Fremont Supervisor Jim Greier said of previous meetings “more lip service” is still to be determined.