Workers gain skills in Schoharie storm cleanup
Teams learn marketable skills in funded program
SCHOHARIE Local officials have looked warily at the mangled trees and other debris lining the shores of flooded waterways since tropical storms Irene and Lee left a mess behind.
But the quantity of items that could be picked up by high water and cause damage or more flooding is gradually shrinking this summer.
Dozens of locals have been hard at work over the past couple of months removing dead vegetation, plastics and tires while putting food on their tables.
Crews in both Schenectady and Schoharie counties are working on projects paid for with federal grant money.
The U.S. Dept. of Labor’s National Emergency Grant Program is committing about $16 million for New York state to pursue cleanup and recovery efforts. Locally, they are under way in Albany, Schenectady, Washington and Schoharie counties.
The money not only funds cleanup but it pays roughly $40 an hour to people who were out of work due either to the disasters or to the economy.
Schoharie County planner Zachary Thompson said a team of 30 laborers whittled away at a list of 77 applications from property owners looking for help clearing debris.
That first team is nearing its seven-week limit set for participation, and another team is expected to begin working next week, Thompson said.
The blistering hot weather hasn’t made the job of hauling and cutting logs and carrying debris any easier.
But Thompson said workers haven’t been complaining.
“It’s hard work. We’ve been fortunate to have a good pool of people to choose from. It was unfortunate to see how many people who were eligible,” Thompson said.
He said the workers all have a “strong work ethic.”
“There’s no reason for them not to be working. It just shows how tough it is right now.”
Workers in the program have to undergo several hours of training to get an OSHA certification and then receive site-specific safety training.
The skills they learn, the certification and the teamwork experience are all benefits that might help these individuals get permanent work in the future, said Eugene White, a spokesman at the Northeast Parent and Child Society that’s administering the program in Schenectady County.
Workers have been busy in Rotterdam Junction, near Schenectady County Community College and in other spots, White said.
He said there’s a wide spectrum of participants, from people in their early 20s to those in their 60s, both men and women.
“You really can’t get this kind of training unless a company hires you. We’ve got a whole bunch of workers now who have these basic skills,” White said.
Several agencies have been involved in the effort, including the state Department of Labor and, in Schoharie County, the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Fulton Montgomery Schoharie Workforce Development Board.
Crews in the Schoharie County program have been in various spots along the Schoharie Creek.
Different property owners applied for the help, so they are located in pockets in places including North Blenheim and Esperance.
He said he expects the program to accomplish 100 work orders by its Sept. 30 deadline.