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Schumer pushing for Congress to approve dam safety funding

Thursday, April 11, 2013
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— Emergency Action Plans play an important role at dams that dot waterways across New York state, such as spelling out what people are supposed to do if there’s a concern a dam could fail.

But in the Capital Region, such plans are lacking for 148 high- or significant-hazard dams.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is hopeful an upcoming vote in Congress will yield funding to assist states in having their dams evaluated and, if needed, brought up to a safe condition.

There are more than 1,960 dams in upstate New York, Schumer said in a telephone news conference Thursday, and roughly 75 percent lack an emergency action plan.

“That’s far too big a risk to take,” he said.

The plans should include a full inspection, detail dam conditions and outline steps to prevent failure or to mitigate damage in the event there is a failure.

High-hazard dams are those which, were they to fail, would cause “widespread or serious damage” to homes, highways, buildings, railways or important utilities or cause “substantial environmental damage including loss of life,” according to the state DEC’s Dam Safety Program.

There are several high-hazard dams in the Capital Region, according to the DEC, and many are decades old. They include the Brookside Reservoir dam on Bunn Creek in the city of Amsterdam, built in 1882; the circa-1870 Harrower Pond dam in the town of Amsterdam; and the Rice Reservoir Inlet dam in Johnstown, built in 1930.

Other high-hazard dams include the Mariaville Lake dam in Schenectady County, built in 1925; the Vischer Ferry dam, built in 1913; and the massive Gilboa Dam in Schoharie County.

Data provided Thursday didn’t indicate precisely which dams do not have emergency action plans, only that most don’t.

None of the four high-hazard dams in Schenectady County have an emergency action plan, while only one of the 12 in Montgomery County has an EAP. In Schoharie County, 22 out of 25 dams lack an EAP, as do 20 out of 26 in Fulton County, according to Schumer.

The primary federal legislation that provides money to states to pursue dam safety and planning under the National Dam Safety Program has expired, Schumer said. So he is encouraging fellow members of Congress to support the Water Resources Development Act of 2013.

If approved, the act would boost funding for inspections and maintenance while strengthening safety measures.

In New York, new regulations require owners of hazardous dams to develop emergency action plans, something many owners, which include municipalities, can’t afford.

“As we saw during [Tropical Storm] Irene, 31 dams in New York were either damaged or broken. We learned the hard way, when it comes to safety, we can’t cut corners,” Schumer said.

 
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