Engineers to fix sirens busted by Irene
Emergency officials want more gauges
SCHOHARIE VALLEY Five of Schoharie County’s 20 early-warning flood sirens remained out of commission Monday but officials said engineers will be on the scene this week to see what it will take to get the entire system up and running again.
Work to replace flood-warning gear in Schoharie County is one of several activities under way roughly four weeks after hurricane-charged flooding put them to the test.
Hurricane season technically ends Nov. 30, but National Weather Service hydrologist Steve DiRienzo said the storms can befall the Northeast any time of the year.
The U.S. Geological Survey is deciding how best to replace several damaged water-level gauges — used by the National Weather Service and emergency officials to determine the threat level for flooding.
Sirens and gauges were damaged or destroyed Aug. 28 when flooding overtook Schoharie Valley — leaving officials little way to warn residents along the Schoharie Creek of future floods.
The absence of the gauges and destruction of early-warning sirens caused an additional evacuation the week following Tropical Storm Irene’s visit as Tropical Storm Lee threatened the region. That evacuation was done with the reverse-911 telephone system and door-to-door contact by volunteer firefighters.
Both systems played a major role in the hours leading up to the destruction and some officials have said they saved many lives in low-lying areas.
The USGS water gauges provide the National Weather Service and other agencies with real-time data on how much water is flowing in particular locations.
There are only two such gauges in the Schoharie Valley: one just below the Schoharie Reservoir’s Gilboa Dam and the other on the northernmost end of Schoharie County in Burtonsville.
Schoharie County officials have questioned why there aren’t more gauges, such as along the Cobleskill or Fox creeks, which are considered major contributors to the Schoharie Creek’s flow.
When the Gilboa gauge was overtaken by floodwaters, emergency officials lacked sufficient detail to determine the risk to the Gilboa Dam, which is under reconstruction, so officials set off the early-warning sirens to make sure residents headed to high ground.
USGS surface water specialist Gary Firda, who has been in the field for the past four weeks, on Saturday said the sites where water gauges were damaged or destroyed have been fitted with “rapid deployment gauges” so the National Weather Service and others have data available.
Firda said in instances where the gauges had their protective wooden sheds destroyed along streams, the office is considering installing concrete ones instead.
“As we put these gauges back in and repair these lines, we’ll try to make it stronger,” Firda said.
The 20 Gilboa Dam sirens were tested recently and 15 were functional, according to Schoharie County Undersheriff Ron Stevens.
The siren on Priddle Road in Esperance and the one connected to the Schoharie Village Firehouse, both inundated by the creek, were two of the five knocked out of commission. The location of the other three nonfunctioning units was unclear Monday.
“The good thing is there is overlap in a lot of the sirens,” Stevens said, meaning that people living near a damaged siren have a chance of hearing the next siren down the valley.
Schoharie County Attorney Michael West said the county signed off on an agreement with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which is offering to pay up to $300,000 to cover the sirens’ repair and reinstallation.
The DEP is only asking that the county try to get reimbursement from FEMA in an effort to pay it back.
“There really is no string attached to it … it seems like a nice gesture,” West said.
PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY
With the help of a mobile HVAC unit, the county’s Emergency 911 dispatch center is back up and running on the second floor of the county public safety facility.
But it will take weeks, if not months, to determine whether or not Schoharie County can repair the facility or have to build a replacement.
County Treasurer William Cherry — one of many Schoharie residents whose homes were wrecked by the flooding Schoharie Creek — said Monday the future of the jail is uncertain.
“Right now there are way too many questions regarding whether the jail will be rebuilt or repaired in its existing location,” he said. It’s clear now that the facility, situated on Depot Lane just off Main Street, is in the flood zone, Cherry said.
That means if county officials want to repair the jail in its current site, the county could risk losing out on financial assistance from FEMA. But if FEMA will help pay for building a new jail outside of the flood zone, that would be the least-expensive way to go, he said, but he’s not taking any side on the issue before getting all the facts.
“It’s literally going to take six months before we know some of the answers,” Cherry said.
PROGRESS IN MONTGOMERY
Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas Quackenbush said the county is expecting to reopen the Annex Building in Fonda later this week.
The facility took on several feet of water when Tropical Storm Lee blew through, giving the region a second punch of devastation.
Since then, the Old County Courthouse at 9 Park St. has served as a temporary office for the county treasurer and the auditing and purchasing offices.
The data processing, printing and youth/veterans departments are temporarily stationed at the Public Safety Facility on Clark Drive in the town of Glen.
The public health, personnel and real property offices were doing business at the primary county office building at 64 Broadway.
Quackenbush said a tentative reopening date for the Annex Building is Thursday.
“There’s always going to be humps in the road but I think everything’s been pretty smooth, considering,” he said.