Jason Dole | Democrat
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF the Army for Civil Works John P. Woodley, left, greets Congressman Maurice Hinchey during his visit to the Town of Rockland on September 5. Looking on is Lt. Col. Gwen E. Baker, Philadelphia District Commander with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Rockland Gets Visit From Army Corps
By Jason Dole
LIVINGSTON MANOR September 21, 2007 On September 5, representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited Roscoe and Livingston Manor. They were led by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, John P. Woodley, Jr., an advisor who reports to the president.
Joined by Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, and representatives from the town and county level, they came to get a first-hand account of the Town of Rockland’s flooding problems.
They toured damaged areas, listened to local folks tell their stories and then they responded by explaining the process of getting the Army Corps to help with the flood problem.
So far, things look good. Within two months the Army Corps will get their budget. It will hopefully have the funding for an extensive study not just of Roscoe and Livingston Manor, but possibly the whole upper Delaware region. Hinchey announced that the House of Representatives approved $700,000 for studies in the area studies that could begin by the end of the year.
That’s the big picture. Underneath that, however, there was another outcome of last week’s visit. It may surprise some folks in Livingston Manor, especially those who say nothing is being done about the flood problem.
When it comes to flood mitigation, the hamlet and its leadership has made an outstanding impression on officials at the national level.
“Livingston Manor did a very good job of telling their story. It was very impressive and certainly got the attention of the Corps of Engineers and the Army for Civil Works,” said Lt. Col. Gwen E. Baker, Philadelphia District Commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, of her visit that day. “It’s a very proactive township. It was by far a leader exemplified in the types of things they’ve tried to do to help themselves.”
Baker went on to describe the “litany of preventative measures” that Town of Rockland Supervisor Pat Pomeroy listed for the officials. That was after Pomeroy’s stories of describing what the floods themselves were like.
“You couldn’t help but be sympathetic and really respect the fact that they’ve done all they can,” said Baker, who continued to think of Livingston Manor even as she toured Walton the following day.
“I passed off Pat’s name to the gentleman who has her job in Walton and said, ‘you need to call this lady, because she’s tried to use every tool in the box.’”
This characterization of the Town of Rockland and its Supervisor stands in stark contrast to the local folks who continue to say that nothing has been done to help stop the flooding.
At public meetings and hearings over the past few years, the message from town leaders has been the same: there is no single quick-fix solution to the flood problem. It will take multiple solutions, years of studies and work, and a mountain of money. Even then, there’s no guarantee the flooding will stop.
Yet some folks don’t buy it. Even after hydrologists and scientists come to explain how generations of meddling with the streams has led in part to the current flood problems, at least one person at these meetings will stand and ask, “But when are you going to fix the rivers?”
Pomeroy refers to them as members of the “bulldozer brigade.” Their mantra is “Fish vs. People,” which means (sarcastically) that the trout must be more important than people’s well being to town leaders and environmentalists.
Pomeroy says it’s just not true.
“There’s still a vocal core who thinks that we are not doing anything,” says Pomeroy. “They think that unless you’re on a bulldozer bulldozing the river, you’re not doing anything. We’re seeing the solution is so much more than that.”
Sit down with Pat Pomeroy and look at the giant aerial photos that hung in the town hall for more than a year, and you may begin to see the same things.
While it looks pretty on the ground, Livingston Manor’s Renaissance Park is just a little wedge of ground being reclaimed by water when you look at it from the air.
It’s no wonder. The Little Beaverkill goes around the park and intersects the main river at a right angle. With weather events like hurricane Ivan in 2004, the thaw in 2005, and the ceaseless rains of June 2006, the Little Beaverkill backs up and fills parts of Main Street, Pearl Street, and beyond.
“[The park] is a nice idea, but no stream should enter a river at a 90 degree angle like that,” says Pomeroy. “We need to do something that respects the river valleys and the people here. The river is deadly powerful in a flood situation.”
So, what has been done so far? Even as more floods hit the area last year, Pomeroy was completing work on a buy-out grant for chronically flooded homes (8 out of 12 have closed so far). Other homes have been raised above the flood level.
Then, there have been changes to the zoning regulations. While the DEC sets stormwater regulations for the state, the Town of Rockland has made its regulations stricter. They’re also looking at a voluntary draw down of local lakes, leaving them a little lower at the end of the summer. It wouldn’t stop a flood like last year’s, but it may help with fall and spring floods.
“We can’t stop hurricanes, but we can stop people from building in the flood plain,” says Pomeroy. “We need to be more aggressive in making regulations that protect people. We have to get to a point where the flood comes and nothing gets damaged.”
A key part of the plan in the past couple years has been to get the Army Corps of Engineers to look at the situation. Pomeroy says the reason for this is two-fold. The extensive studies that the Corps would do is way beyond what the Town of Rockland can afford, but if the studies happen, the Army Corps and the DEC will split the bill.
The second reason also comes down to money. If the Army Corps does decide to act on its findings and help mitigate floods in the area, it will also help pay for those projects, leaving just 17 percent to be covered by the township.
In Roscoe, the flood situation is different. Downtown didn’t flood until 2005. The studies that the town has done so far indicate that this is because the highway along the side of town creates a barrier for water drainage. Town leaders started to look for a grant to block the underpass near the on-ramp for East 17, until a better idea hit them.
“We pulled that grant from the cycle and got the NYS DOT on board, because the highway is part of the problem,” explains Pomeroy. “The Army Corps said, ‘you’re right, we’re glad you’re bringing them to the table.’”
It’s this type of synergistic thinking, planning and hard work on the part of the Town of Rockland that has impressed the Army Corps.
“Livingston Manor has done quite a bit to try to help themselves,” says Lt. Col. Gwen Baker. “It makes them a very good candidate for federal assistance We’re not starting from scratch, we’ll pick up from where they are. They’re well on their way.”
And what about Pat Pomeroy. When her time as Town Supervisor is up at the end of the year, will she be on her way? Has she had enough of battling the bulldozer brigade or, conversely, manning the bucket brigades? Not exactly.
On September 24, Pomeroy expects to become a Certified Flood Plain Manager. After her term as Town of Rockland Supervisor is up, she plans to return to school for her masters degree. Her concentration will be in flood management. Then, she’ll be back.
“I want to come back here because I live here,” says Pomeroy.
“I want to work with the County Planning department so that I can help people with flood mitigation. I’ve learned a lot in eight years, and I still have a lot to learn.