Foundation gift to keep Fort Plain residents safe
Grant covers rest of cost for flood warning system
FORT PLAIN The village of Fort Plain got a siren for Christmas this year.
Mayor Guy Barton recently received a check in the mail from the William Gundry Broughton Charitable Private Foundation. In the wake of summer flash flooding, he asked the Glenville-based foundation for $16,000 so he could buy a disaster warning system for the village. They gave him more.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got their letter,” he said. “What a Christmas.”
As Otsquago Creek floodwaters coursed down the streets and through the basements of village homes on June 28, one thing was clear to Barton: His village should have been warned.
One resident, Ethel Healey, was carried away when her modular home was washed downstream. Her body was recovered later.
“If we had an alarm system,” he said, “we might not have lost a resident.”
Weeks after the waters receded, he started raising money for a siren and flood gauges. All together, the planned system will cost roughly $26,000. The local NBT Bank branch wrote a check for $5,000, as did a Stewart’s Shop, but the newest grant put fundraising efforts over the edge.
“They didn’t want the exact number publicized,” Barton said, “but they gave a lot. We can afford the system now.”
In a few months, a $16,000 siren will arrive on a truck from the Whelen Siren factory in Connecticut and get bolted to a 50-foot pole near Fort Plain High School. Originally, village officials thought about installing a siren by the fire department on Canal Street, but the height of land by the school makes for better sound coverage.
A series of four float gauges placed on the Otsquago Creek from its confluence with the Mohawk River to a few miles upstream will connect to the siren via radio transmitters. If the water rises past a certain level at any of the gauges, the siren will automatically turn on, warning residents of an impending flood.
A few months ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an effort to install flood gauges across the major watersheds of the state. Such a system could include a gauge on or near the Otsquago Creek, but Barton didn’t feel like waiting to find out.
The state project relies on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant program for funding. If the federal money comes through, setting up the gauges will still take more than a year. Barton said the village needs a warning system as soon as possible.
“We nearly flooded just this weekend,” he said.
At around 9 a.m. Saturday, thawing temperatures and rain pushed the Otsquago Creek to very near flood stage with ice jamming up the Mohawk River lock at Canajoharie.
“It was pretty close to going over the berm,” Barton said, “but they got the river moving in time.”
Just in case canal workers failed to open the lock, police officers spent the morning pounding on doors along Reid, Abbott and Dairy streets, warning residents of a possible flood. Barton said the siren would have gone off in that case, saving the officers some time.
By spring, he said, the system will be installed and working, thanks in large part to the generosity of the William Gundry Broughton foundation.
“One of their board members called me after the flood and said I should apply for one of their grants,” Barton recounted. “They’re very generous people.”
With the system ordered, Barton said he’ll rest easier this holiday season.
Foundation officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.