Residents offer input on dam fix to ease canal flood damage
Retired architect James Duggan was pleased to learn the Federal Emergency Management Agency may fund changes to the movable dams along the canal system to make flooding upstream of Locks E-8 through E-15 less severe.
But for Duggan — who lives in Schenectady’s oft-flooded Stockade neighborhood downstream of Lock E-8 — a focus on the massive concrete dam at Lock E-7 might be a good idea too.
It’s the Lock 7 dam — which doesn’t have the ability to let water flow anywhere else but over its top — that hinders the flow of the Mohawk River and contributes to ice jamming in Rexford and, further upstream, to flooding in the historic Stockade.
Duggan is among those submitting remarks as part of the public comment period on FEMA’s plans, announced in late December. The agency wants to modify the movable dam gates to make it easier to raise them out of the water and let the river flow in anticipation of weather that could lead to flooding.
Doing so would prevent trees and other debris from blocking the river’s flow and causing floodwater to go around the movable dams, creating damage along the riverside communities.
FEMA’s involvement in Mohawk River flooding issues is seen as a major boost in an area that has suffered massive flooding three times over the past six years, first in 2006 and then from tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011.
John Garver, a Union College professor who created the college’s Mohawk River symposium, which has brought scientists together to discuss the river system’s hydrology and flooding, said in a letter to FEMA the effort should be expanded.
“We need a comprehensive flood mitigation strategy for the Mohawk River and Schoharie Creek, and FEMA is well-posed to play a leadership role in making this happen,” he wrote in the letter.
Garver on Monday said he is hoping the federal government’s focus on minimizing damage will take the entire system into account, including the dam near Lock 7, bringing a “holistic” focus on the issue.
“The locks are incredibly important and they played such a key role in the flooding during Irene and Lee. But we’ve got to focus on the big picture and the big picture is the entire system,” he said.
“One of the key aspects of ice movement in deep, slow-moving pools is that the water slows and this allows ice floes to jam and thicken,” Garver wrote.
Slow-moving water in the pool between Lock E-7 and E-8 contributes to ice forming and there are several “chronic jam points” along the river that should be removed, he said in his letter to FEMA.
Such a focus, Garver said, requires attention to the increased flow from the Schoharie Creek — the Mohawk’s biggest tributary — and other aspects of the river systems’ hydrology.
Duggan, who was chest deep in floodwater in 2011, said flooding has been a fact of life in the Stockade since he moved there in 1965.
“The cellar being full has been, I hate to say it, somewhat of a routine to us and my contention is it doesn’t have to be,” he said.
FEMA spokesman Donald Caetano on Monday said it is premature to comment on the topic because the agency is still receiving and reviewing public input.
The state Thruway Authority/Canal Corp. did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
FEMA is accepting public comment on its proposal to help fund a retrofit of Canal Corp. movable dams to lessen flooding damage. The deadline for public comment is Thursday. No project specifics have been made available.
People interesting in commenting can submit written remarks via email at FEMA4020-4031COMMENT@fema.dhs.gov. Comment can also be submitted via regular mail to FEMA Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation, Leo O’Brien Federal Building, 11A Clinton Ave., Suite 742, Albany, NY 12207.