Schoharie County effort to rebuild picks up steam
Around 300 homes still need work after tropical storms hit
SCHOHARIE COUNTY For some, memories of tropical storms Irene and Lee are starting to fade.
But the effort to rebuild the flood-damaged parts of Schoharie County continues unabated and will ramp up again this summer.
According to the flood recovery group Schoharie Area Long Term, or SALT, approximately 300 homes still need work. The nonprofit organization estimates that about half of those properties are less than 50 percent complete and that more than 130 require major reconstruction.
SALT has set an ambitious goal of completing what it calls “15 major rebuild equivalents” over the course of the summer. Executive Director Sarah Goodrich said that phase of work will likely involve rehabbing dozens of properties, but the amount of work will be the equivalent of rebuilding 15 entire homes.
Goodrich said that the rebuilding of Schoharie County is about two-thirds done. But she added that many of the homes that remain on the group’s docket are difficult cases and could take years to resolve.
“Some of these projects are tied up in foreclosure,” she said. “Some are abandoned. Some owe back taxes.”
SALT estimates that it will cost $600,000 to meet its summer rebuild goal, of which more than $300,000 has been raised. SALT is hosting a dinner on June 29 and a brunch and local artisan fair on June 30 to raise the rest of the money and has put out an appeal for donations.
Formed in the aftermath of Irene and Lee, SALT is a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources to flood recovery groups, civic organizations and agencies in the Schoharie Creek basin, an area that includes Schoharie County and northern Greene County. The idea is to make the rebuilding process more efficient and collaborative and leverage finite resources.
One of SALT’s key partners is Schoharie Recovery, which focuses on flood-damaged homes in the Schoharie Central School District. Josh DeBartolo, the group’s coordinator, said that just 40 percent of the flood-damaged properties in the Schoharie school district have been completely rebuilt, while 13 percent have been destroyed.
“The Schoharie school district has the highest percentage of severely damaged properties,” DeBartolo said.
According to SALT, many of the people served by the organization are members of vulnerable populations. About 38 percent are elderly, more than 26 percent are disabled and 10 percent have some type of chronic medical problem.
Goodrich said that some of the flood-damaged homes remain empty and that many owners are renting apartments or living with relatives while they wait for their homes to get fixed up. Some owners have returned home even though their houses aren’t finished and are living on the upper floors, she said.
Irene and Lee struck almost two years ago, causing flooding and widespread devastation to land and property.
There has been a steady stream of volunteers since then, with groups from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, the Church of the Brethren and the United Methodist Committee on Relief providing a constant, year-round presence.
However, the summer will see the number of volunteers heading to Schoharie County increase significantly, especially during the month of July, Goodrich said. So far, more than 25 groups are lined up for the summer; DeBartolo said that during the month of July, between 30 and 80 volunteers are already scheduled to work every day. Both unskilled and skilled labor is needed, DeBartolo said.
In particular, there are projects for electricians, plumbers, carpenters, insulation specialists, masons, drywall installers, tilers, roofers and HVAC specialists.
“We have volunteer needs across the board, from the very skilled to people who want to go door to door,” he said.
DeBartolo is overseeing a survey of the flood-damaged properties in Schoharie County and said that volunteers are needed to contact homeowners. So far, about 835 property owners have been surveyed — fewer than half of the nearly 1,945 property owners who suffered storm damage.
“We’d like to at least make contact with every property that’s identified as being impacted by the storm,” DeBartolo said.
SALT’s larger goal is to see the towns and businesses of Schoharie County full repopulated, a process estimated to take between three and five years.
“We want to keep the momentum going,” Goodrich said. “This is about communities recovering, not just people in houses.”
“We’re very pleased with how far we’ve come,” he said.
One of SALT’s big goals is helping prepare communities for future disasters.
DeBartolo said the flood recovery effort is in the process of transitioning from short-term work to long-term recovery, which will entail making sure that good evacuation routes are set up and that the county’s emergency shelters are up to date. Creek bed stabilization is also important, he said.
Other local areas devastated by Irene and Lee are mostly back on their feet. Late last year, the Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County, a group focused on rebuilding flood-damaged parts of Schenectady County, wrapped up its work and closed its office in the rectory of St. Margaret of Cortona in Rotterdam Junction.
For more information about SALT, visit the group’s website at www.saltrecovery.org.