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Schoharie County officials travel to Texas to evaluate storm-wrecked documents

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
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Boxes of documents damaged by flooding as a result of Tropical Storm Irene await review.
Boxes of documents damaged by flooding as a result of Tropical Storm Irene await review.

— Four Schoharie County officials likely saved the federal government millions of dollars last week, but they had to take a weeklong trip to Texas to do it.

The county dispatched four officials to the Fort Worth facility of Belfor disaster services to coordinate the recovery of thousands of documents soaked by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

The county was storing a variety of papers and books in the basement of the County Office Complex on Main Street in Schoharie when floodwaters inundated the village and the complex.

County Clerk Indica Jaycox, Deputy County Clerk Larry Caza, real property tax service director Marjorie Troidl and county flood recovery coordinator Bill Cherry spent all last week in a warehouse poring through documents to decide what to save and what could be thrown out.

Cherry hasn’t tallied how much airfare, meals and lodging for the four officials cost, but said he thinks it is less than $10,000. The county is paying the tab but hopes the federal government will pick up the cost as part of flood-recovery reimbursement.

Jaycox on Wednesday said there were some books and documents that date back to the 1700s, but many other documents were of questionable value.

“It was very organized,” she said of the scene. Workers at Belfor had boxes set up on tables and would return and refresh the tables periodically, she said. “They just kept the boxes coming.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to foot the bill for recovery of the county’s flood-wrecked documents, and the trip likely saved millions, Cherry said.

The foursome went through more than 11,000 cases of documents and books, enough to fill 15 tractor-trailers. Each case held 1,000 to 1,800 sheets of paper, all of which were contaminated by flooding.

Cherry said the group went at it for as much as 10 hours or more each day.

“They never in a million years thought we would get through those 15 tractor-trailers,” Cherry said.

The group left Albany at 5 a.m. Sunday, arriving in Texas in the mid-afternoon, then got to work starting at 7 a.m. Monday morning. They were there at 7 each morning through Friday.

Cherry described the facility as a massive warehouse with no air-conditioning. It had fans to blow the 100-degree air around.

They all wore protective masks and gloves. Cherry said he opened one box and got a nose full of that distinctive smell he remembers from the days after the flood.

The process required county department heads because each knows how many years different types of documents are to be maintained, and which ones aren’t valuable.

There isn’t yet a total, but officials estimate they were able to eliminate anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of the documents, and the cost to have them copied, digitized and returned.

Some documents were routine correspondence that didn’t need to be kept. Others were historic. In some cases, handwritten documents from the 1800s were classified historic and earmarked for preservation.

One package Cherry brought back to Schoharie caused him to sweat before getting on the airplane — it was evidence from a case years ago that included counterfeit cash. He said he got it through the airport and promptly turned it over to county Sheriff Tony Desmond.

Cherry said the difference in the cost of having all the documents restored and just the selected material restored is in the millions of dollars.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say if we hadn’t done this and we had just blindly said to Belfor, ‘We don’t know what we have, just scan everything,’ it probably honestly would’ve cost in excess of $20 million,” Cherry said.

 
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