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Public offers ideas on flood control in Schenectady

Monday, September 30, 2013
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— Elevate the houses along the river. Demolish the canal system of locks. Dredge down to dig out a deeper riverbed.

Residents of the Stockade and Rotterdam Junction had many expensive ideas Monday on how to keep their neighborhoods safe from future floods. They eagerly presented their ideas at the first of many meetings designed to develop a project proposal for state funding.

The state has set aside $3 million each for Schenectady and Rotterdam, but the communities must come up with a plan by March or they won’t be able to apply for the money.

It’s part of a statewide effort called Rising New York. Communities are meeting to design plans that make their neighborhoods more “resilient” in the face of future flooding.

“It’s going to happen again and again and again and we need to be ready,” said Sarah Crowell, a Department of State employee coordinating the region’s plans.

She emphasized the “resilience” phrase, suggesting that residents consider ways to make their community stronger economically, culturally or physically.

But residents focused mostly on the last: they want to protect their houses.

Engineer Greg Sauer of the Stockade proposed elevating the 15 or so houses in his neighborhood most in danger of regular flooding. All of those houses sit next to the Mohawk River, at the end of the side streets that head toward Riverside Park. All of them have gotten flooded in recent years. He proposed raising them and the street itself, with stairs leading down to the park.

Elevating each house would cost $40,000 to $50,000, he estimated. The city probably couldn’t afford to elevate every house in the 500-year flood plain — which is supposed to be the rarer flood — because there’s at least 40 houses in that area, he said. But he thought it would be affordable to raise the 15 houses closest to the river, in the 100-year flood plain.

If the city used $2 million of its $3 million from the state, it could raise all of the houses in the 500-year flood danger zone.

He said elevating houses would protect the historic houses, arguing that the only other fail-safe would be a dike.

“If you put a dike in the Stockade, you’re really going to destroy the neighborhood,” he said, adding that the idea had been proposed and rejected in the 1970s.

But a dike could protect Schenectady County Community College, which is also vulnerable to floods, he said.

“These buildings are so massive you couldn’t jack them up. You’d probably have to use the dike,” he said.

Others had different ideas.

Marty Byster, whose house flooded when Tropical Storm Irene hit, said he was suspicious of the steady increase in flooding.

In his 72 years in the Stockade, he said, it’s never flooded this badly before and it used to rarely flood at all.

He blames the lock system.

“I think Lock 7 is a problem that really should be addressed,” he said.

He was one of many who thinks the canal system is responsible for increased flooding.

But Sauer said he had created engineering models to see whether a lower lock would make a difference. It didn’t. He thinks Byster is onto something — but he thinks the only solution would involve removing the entire lock system.

“The Stockade didn’t flood like this in the 1800s,” he said. “You could remove the locks. But I don’t see it happening.”

Similarly, he said, deepening the river channel could help by giving the water somewhere to go before it rolled over its banks.

That, too, would work but would not be practical.

“It’s a fairly major undertaking,” he said, estimating that at $20 million to $30 million.

Byster listened carefully.

“I want to know what I’m going to do with my house,” he said. “Should I elevate it? Or is it best to give it up because you can’t really prevent flooding anymore?”

He’s already spent $50,000 renovating after the latest flood. He wasn’t sure he could afford to pay to raise his house.

“I could try to find the money,” he said. “I would like to save my house.”

Rising New York will continue to gather ideas at upcoming meetings before developing a project that will be submitted to the state in March. The next meeting will be at Rotterdam Town Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday.

 
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