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Scotia: After the mud and water, Jack's back in business

Sunday, August 26, 2012
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Jumpin’ Jack’s and Collins Park in Scotia are shown under water from Mohawk River flooding on Aug. 29, 2011.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Jumpin’ Jack’s and Collins Park in Scotia are shown under water from Mohawk River flooding on Aug. 29, 2011.

— The “Beach Closed” sign now at Collins Lake is perhaps the most visible sign of Tropical Storm Irene’s wrath on Scotia last August.

The swelling Mohawk River stirred up sediment and silt in the lake. Despite numerous efforts by the village to get the particles to settle to the bottom, the lake remained too cloudy to meet state health requirements for swimming this year.

However, much of the village is back to normal — a sharp contrast from a year ago, when Schonowee and Washington avenues were turned into rivers and a sea of mud covered the tennis and basketball courts at Collins Park and created large sinkholes in the grass.

The most iconic picture from the flooding was water rising near the tops of the pavilions at Jumpin’ Jack’s, which owner Mark Lansing Sr. called a real “gut check.”

“I couldn’t even imagine what the damage was going to be,” he said.

Jumpin’ Jack’s lost about 11 tables and had to replace equipment with the water cresting about 4 feet above the parking lot. The storm deposited 250 cubic yards of mud in just the back lot, according to Lansing. The front parking lot had a lot of mud and silt as well. There was some structural damage to the front wall of the ice cream building because of all the water rushing against it.

His employees worked through last winter right up until the last Thursday in March, when Jack’s opened as usual. The repairs cost more than $250,000 — some was covered by insurance and some not. Lansing said he hopes not to see another storm like that in his lifetime.

But he feels very fortunate, nonetheless. “People in the [Rotterdam] Junction, Middleburgh and Schoharie. They got hit a lot worse than I did. I feel bad for those people,” he said.

Lansing got new tables and shored up the ice cream building with new, shorter windows as opposed to the previous floor-to-ceiling ones so there is less chance of people leaning against them and crashing through.

Lansing is planning an additional expansion after the season with new bathrooms, but nothing that would greatly change the classic look of Jumpin’ Jack’s. He said the feedback from customers has been very positive.

“They like the new look and the fact that we opened on time and nothing really dramatically was changed. It sort of put them in a comfort zone,” he said.

Down the road from Jumpin’ Jack’s onto Washington Avenue, village officials had to fix a large sinkhole causing by rushing water eroding water, sewer and storm water pipes, according to Scotia Public Works Superintendent Andrew Kohout.

The project cost $320,000, which was entirely paid for by FEMA money. The village also had to spend roughly $15,000 to repair its brand-new docks, which were hit by the surging water.

During the height of the flooding, village workers helped pump out people’s basements and haul away debris.

“Village departments worked great together during the storm,” he said.

The city of Schenectady also assisted with trash collection. “They had at least 10 trucks. They had backhoes. They had Dumpsters. I think that was really big for the people that lived in that area because all their possessions were out on the street and they didn’t want to look at them and I don’t blame them. We did our best to make sure that got cleaned out.”

Slow recovery

It was a slow recovery for those residents. Len Brunez of 31 Washington Ave. said he just returned to living on both floors of his home about a month and a half ago after living on the second floor for the previous eight months.

Brunez said he was numb for the initial period following the storm.

“You have no idea what to do. You’re totally dumbfounded. You’re just shocked. For the first month, it was just a daze,” he said.

Right after the storm, he was living in his niece’s house. Once, he was able to get the a new water tank and heater, furnace and electrical system, his family was able to move upstairs.

The Brunez family lost about three-quarters of everything they owned because of the floods. Luckily, they were able to move electronics and other small appliances to the second story. However, all the downstairs furniture and carpeting had to be tossed — right down to the subfloors — in order to dry out the place.

It cost about $80,000 to rebuild and they still have some work to do including the porch, hallways and exterior work — none covered by insurance but about $30,000 from FEMA.

“If we get hit with another flood, I’m not going to go through this again,” he said.

Brunez said he is grateful for the support from Habitat for Humanity and the Schenectady County Flood Coalition. Church groups donated furniture and their time to help with the cleanup and a professional electrician donated his time.

“It gives you a lot of good feeling about this country, where people come out of the woodwork like that to help. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “We had people on neighboring streets coming down on our street, pulling a cooler with McDonald’s hamburgers and cheeseburgers.”

He is pleased with the progress he’s made so far. Having the mild winter helped.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody — not even my worst enemy,” he said.

Low-lying areas of Glenville including Freemans Bridge Road and off Route 5 were also hit hard by the storms. Parts of Maalwyck Park closed after a parking lot washed away when the water receded. Indian Meadows Park also briefly closed.

The grounds, parking lot and basement of the house at River Stone Manor were coated with about 3 inches of mud, according to co-owner Skip Sgarlata. They lost almost everything that was under the outdoor tent including tables.

The front lawn had to be resodded because of all the silt that was left behind. It was slimy and slippery and when it dried, it left cracked ground — an unsuitable location for wedding ceremonies.

Those ceremonies had to be moved to a better location on the grounds but brides and grooms were very understanding and accommodating, according to Sgarlata.

The week following the storm, he had a memorial service and weddings that weekend coming up. He didn’t know if he was going to be able to recover quickly enough, but had a lot of help from family and friends. One of his friends had his own excavation company and equipment that he needed. “He pretty much put his own business off to the side and came and rescued me,” he said.

“We were probably working 17, 18 hours — going home, showering, changing and going back,” he added.

The cost was roughly $150,000 Everything is in pretty good shape now, but it is a little dry.

“Isn’t that ironic? You went from too much water to now ‘O my God, we could use some rain,’” he said.

Sgarlata agreed with fellow business owner Lansing that the storm was a bump in the road.

“When you started hearing about what happened to everybody else, then you felt lucky. I only lost stuff in the business that can be replaced,” he said. “There was a lot of people that lost everything.”

Pat Popolizio, owner of the Water’s Edge Lighthouse restaurant said his damage was nearly a half-million dollars — all out of pocket. The building was back in shape in about eight days.

The parking lot was overwhelmed with water and mud and there was considerable damage to the 40 docks, according to Popolizio. Some of them washed away and had to be replaced, which has diminished his marina business.

“It changed the shoreline, so when you wanted to put the docks back they didn’t fit in the same places because some of the trees and the mud had accumulated long the shoreline. It took a considerable amount of time and money so you could clean up the shoreline to put it back.”

Popolizio perhaps summed it up best. “That was a terrible experience. I hope it doesn’t happen for a hundred years,” he said.

 
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