By Dan Hust
CLARYVILLE Claryville got smacked hard this month, first by Hurricane Irene, then by Hurricane Lee.
The tremendous rainfall from both storms sent torrents of water gushing down the Neversink River especially along its West and East branches, ripping apart lawns and washing through homes from downtown Claryville all the way up to Frost Valley.
“The storm just took everything out,” Bruce Papa said as he surveyed the Neversink’s east branch behind his Claryville home and ATV business, B&B Service Center.
“The river was just motoring down through here,” Neversink Supervisor Greg Goldstein added, standing alongside Papa in what was once his back yard and is now the river’s new channel.
“You couldn’t see the river from here,” Papa recalled. “This was all lawn. I mowed this.”
Like the rest of Sullivan County, Claryville didn’t face the monumental destruction its Catskills counterparts to the north did.
Save for tremendous damage to the Frost Valley YMCA, most buildings and roads survived the deluge, with only one reported condemnation in the Town of Neversink.
But it’s the latest in a decades-long string of floods to hit the hamlet.
“I’m at the point now where if I’m going to go away [on a trip], I’ve got to make sure it’s not going to rain,” Papa related.
He’s lived here for 40 years, enjoying the easy access to the Neversink. But he hasn’t relished spending tens of thousands of dollars on cleanup every few years.
Sullivan County officials are trying to ensure that won’t happen again as much as is humanly possible.
“We’re not preventing flooding,” admitted Brian Brustman, manager of the Sullivan County Soil and Water Conservation District. “We’re just trying to minimize the damage it does.”
The damage of chief concern is to public infrastructure roads and bridges owned and maintained by the county and town.
But the work the county is doing benefits private property as well, and last week, Papa gratefully watched as a backhoe created a temporary dam on the Neversink.
Through a flood mitigation fund the County Legislature set up four years ago, Soil and Water has contracted with Bowers Construction of Hurleyville to reroute various sections of the Neversink back to their historic channels, rather than the new paths the water carved out in this and previous floods.
Past efforts have included stream relocation in Roscoe and Callicoon, said Brustman, who estimated the Claryville work will consume less than half of the $100,000 now sitting in the mitigation fund.
Papa and Goldstein credited both County Legislator Elwin Wood and NYS Senator John Bonacic with ensuring the state Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) gave the needed emergency permission to put bulldozers into the Neversink.
“They made this happen,” affirmed Goldstein, saying it’s the fastest he’s ever seen the DEC move.
He and Neversink Highway Superintendent Preston Kelly were also glad the town won’t have to pay for it.
Goldstein estimated such work could have left the town with a bill as high as $100,000.
“I’d be afraid to even guess,” added Kelly.
The town is pitching in with tree removal, but it has its own washed-out infrastructure to repair $50,000-$60,000 worth, said Kelly, not including the virtually destroyed ballfields between Grahamsville and Sundown.
The Sullivan/Ulster county line bisects Claryville, and Goldstein and Brustman indicated Ulster County and the Town of Denning will work with Sullivan and Neversink to rectify flood problems upriver from Claryville.
In the meantime, Sullivan County DPW workers have fixed damage to the roads leading into Claryville from the south and west.
“They did a phenomenal job,” observed Kelly.
The trick now is to figure out how to prevent damage in the future. Brustman said he’ll do a broader assessment in the winter and spring and make recommendations for long-term relief.
But locals and officials hope even this temporary fix will make a difference.
Wood thinks it already has.
“The money we put into this fund is actually working,” he pointed out. “... It’s keeping the costs down.”
Papa certainly agrees, but he feels New York City’s Dept. of Environmental Protection, which operates the Neversink Reservoir a few miles downstream, should simply add a few cents on city water users’ bills to create its own flood mitigation fund.
Regardless, he’s not eager to watch the system tested by another flood.
“I’ll tell you one thing: when I retire and move, it won’t be anywhere near water!” he laughed. “I don’t even want to see water!”