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Landslide busies road crews in wake of storm, flooding

Monday, June 17, 2013
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Schoharie Town Highway Superintendent Dan Weideman on Monday uses a backhoe to pull debris out of Stony Brook. Weideman said Friday's flash flooding left days of work in its wake that could cost as much as $250,000 to fix.
Schoharie Town Highway Superintendent Dan Weideman on Monday uses a backhoe to pull debris out of Stony Brook. Weideman said Friday's flash flooding left days of work in its wake that could cost as much as $250,000 to fix.

— A landslide that covered Huntersland Road following Friday’s flash flooding continues to slide and it was unclear Monday when it might be stabilized.

Officials estimate the cost of putting things back together following the brief deluge could reach or surpass $1 million — but it’s unlikely the county or affected towns will get any help.

The torrential rainfall caused damage to infrastructure such as roads and culverts in the towns of Seward, Richmondville, Cobleskill, Summit, Middleburgh, Futon, Blenheim and Conesville, County Public Works Commissioner Daniel R. Crandell said.

He said a view from up the mountainside he got earlier Monday revealed stress cracking and said “there’s no way to tell” when the slope will finish sliding.

It’s a similar situation to the landslide off state Route 10 in Richmondville, which brings crews back periodically to remove debris, he said.

“You don’t know when it’s done,” Crandell said.

Dust flew through the air Monday in the village of Middleburgh, as workers continued cleanup that began late Friday, after as much as 3 inches of rain fell within a half-hour.

Middleburgh Town Supervisor James Buzon looked on as the county’s Highway Department cleared inches of mud from Huntersland Road while numerous trees, felled by the mudslide, teetered on the slope.

It’s a site just a few hundred feet from a similar slide on the roadway — one of the county’s flood evacuation routes — that occurred in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Water continued to trickle from the mountainside and material was still falling throughout Monday.

“Irene’s put something into motion here that’s really starting to show itself now,” Buzon said.

Buzon was aware of about five residences that took on water Friday as well as at the Middleburgh school, which had water in the boiler room and auditorium.

Some temporary work that had been done in the streams was blown out altogether, putting the localities further behind in efforts to overcome damage from 2011 flooding.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Buzon said.

Schoharie Town Highway Superintendent Dan Weideman said some portions of the Stony Brook were filled with stones and gravel, to the point where the creek’s depth was reduced from several feet to just 1 foot in some spots.

Deputy Emergency Management Director Colleen Fullford said the office is requesting a joint preliminary damage assessment from the state Office of Emergency Management and FEMA, but added that it’s unlikely Friday’s storm would yield a disaster declaration and federal assistance.

“We’re hoping that this at least opens the eyes of our state officials, to show them that, look, we’re still recovering from Irene and now, here we have a lot more damage,” she said.

“At this point our preliminary estimates are really close to $1 million. We really can’t afford that,” Fullford said.

She said she believes the Huntersland Road slide area is dangerous and said a discussion about when it would be considered safe enough to re-open is ongoing.

She said there is concern about the safety of county workers pulling debris from the bottom of the slope.

“I don’t think any of them have gotten more than a few hours of sleep in the last four days,” she said.

Residents were scratching their heads after the flash flood Friday and wondering why post-Irene repairs didn’t appear to do any good.

But Peter Nichols, stream program manager for the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation District, said money spent after the 2011 disaster went to reopening channels.

A $21 million project to be funded by the USDA’s emergency watershed protection project is still in the engineering phase. It will focus on repairing portions of the Little Schoharie Creek, the Line Creek, the Platter Kill and two tributaries on Brown Mountain Road — not the water-flow and drainage problems implicated in Friday’s flash flooding.

State Department of Transportation spokesman David Hamburg in an email Monday said the DOT cleared out the culvert near the Middleburgh school just a week before Friday’s storm.

DOT workers returned Saturday to clear debris again, but remaining issues are the responsibility of the school and the county, he said.

“The fixes needed are not within the DOT right-of-way. The DOT will work with the county of Schoharie, as well as the town and village of Middleburgh to share our knowledge and expertise to help them make the changes needed to improve their infrastructure on the local system,” Hamburg said in the email.

 
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