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Schoharie officials air ideas to handle growing flood threat

Monday, June 24, 2013
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Huntersland Road in Middleburgh, where a landslide shut off an evacuation road during flash floods two weeks ago, is seen on Monday.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Huntersland Road in Middleburgh, where a landslide shut off an evacuation road during flash floods two weeks ago, is seen on Monday.

— A science-based to-do list is being developed with the goal of protecting Schoharie Valley communities from the continued threat of flooding.

Massive inundation from tropical storms Irene and Lee 22 months ago, then the June 14 flash flood that shut down the villages of Schoharie and Middleburgh, are issues on the minds of dozens of officials who gathered Monday to come up with ideas for action. “I think we’ve all realized over the last two years that the world we lived in has changed,” said Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, who assembled dozens of local, state and federal representatives for the discussion in Schoharie.

Monday’s meeting marked the second gathering in which Lopez and representatives from the offices of state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, joined with local officials and agencies.

Lopez said he created the working group in response to Schoharie Town Supervisor Gene Milone’s repeated calls for somebody to build retention ponds, dredge the Schoharie Creek, expand wetlands or take some kind of action to address long-neglected drainage systems and waterways.

Among agencies represented were the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Soil and Water Conservation District, New York Power Authority, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

Esperance Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III is advocating for a holistic study that would stretch beyond the Schoharie Creek to its tributaries.

Recent flash flooding that sent rainwater cascading down main streets in the villages of Schoharie and Middleburgh demonstrate much work needs to be done, Van Wormer said.

A variety of options were discussed Monday — but it all centers on money.

There’s already a comprehensive study under way, initiated in 2010 by 14 Soil and Water Conservation District offices following the 2006 flooding along the Mohawk and other rivers that caused more than $227 million in damage in the 14-county region.

But that study continues. Officials in Schoharie County want to focus on ways to improve the region’s ability to handle an increasing amount of rainfall now, not years down the road.

The group assembled Monday learned that more work has been done than is realized; the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation district is already putting together proposals for state grant funding announced recently.

And according to Peter Nichols, stream program manager at the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation District, funding for projects — not identifying projects — is the biggest need.

“We need immediate funding and we need long-term funding,” Nichols said.

For now, the group agreed to have the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Schoharie County Planning and Development Department put together a scope of work and estimated budget.

From there, Lopez said, he and other elected representatives will go about the task of finding money to pay for projects.

Projects could include flood control structures, retention ponds, pumps and protection systems for hamlets and villages and other measures.

Any of them, however, will have to be planned and backed up by science.

“Anything we do has to have a scientific approach,” Nichols said.

The group is planning to meet again in late July or in August.

 
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