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Schoharie County communities prioritize uses for flood relief money

Sunday, March 2, 2014
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— On its path through the heart of the village of Middleburgh, Gorge Creek takes a thousand-foot trip underground in a 5-foot diameter pipe.

“It goes right under the school,” said Middleburgh Department of Public Works Superintendent Dale Nunamann. “That’s not good.”

Nunamann chatted with other Schoharie County residents in the basement of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Middleburgh on Thursday evening during one of several NY Rising public comment meetings. He talked about that thousand-foot pipe and how it jammed up with debris left over from Tropical Storm Irene when torrential rains turned Main Street into a river last June.

Nunamann said it cost a lot to unclog. He hopes federal money promised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo through the NY Rising program will pay for the pipe to be rerouted into an open stream bed, decreasing the odds of another Main Street flood.

The NY Rising program is nearing a milestone. Back in July, Cuomo announced flood-damaged communities across the state would receive more than $750 million in federal funds to rebuild in ways resistant to natural disaster.

In August, committees from a half-dozen communities in Schoharie County, one of the areas hit hardest by Tropical Storm Irene, drafted lengthy project wish lists for their slice of that money. Over the months, wishes were tested, discussed and winnowed down through public comment and research.

On Thursday, residents and committee members from the towns and villages of Esperance, Middleburgh and Schoharie gathered for one final public comment meeting before the project lists head off to state officials for editing.

Project descriptions and budgets were printed on tagboard and propped against church basement walls.

“The projects you see are the results of a lot of work and hard decisions,” said Ecology and Environment representative Amy Mahl, who was hired by the state Department of State to help certain communities develop spending plans.

Under NY Rising, Mahl said, each community is eligible for $3 million. They could receive all or part of that money based upon the strength of their submission. She said every community started out with a list of potential projects that would have cost into the hundreds of millions.

“They had to prioritize,” she said.

In Middleburgh, fixing the Gorge Creek problem at a projected cost of $1.25 million made the final list. It’s no wonder. In the June flash flooding, the creek went from docile to engulfing resident Garry Bartholomew’s Straub Lane home in just a few minutes. That sort of flooding doesn’t lend itself well to homebuyer confidence.

“A lot of this is about the feeling of safety,” said Sarah Goodrich, director of SALT. “If we want people to move here and start businesses here, we need them to be confident they’re home won’t constantly flood.”

To boost that confidence, Goodrich said there needs to be some prevention measures. A few projects that made the tagboard could go some distance to instilling the desired confidence, such as a countywide flood warning system or raising the banks of the Schoharie Creek. Those projects have survived the selection process so far.

For Central Bridge resident Katherine Adams, flood recovery has more to do with economic growth. Many of the Schoharie County communities hope to land NY Rising money to rebuild their downtowns. The village of Schoharie hopes to buy the Parrott House and turn it into a municipal building.

“I’m looking at this in a selfish way,” she said. “I like the idea of rebuilding our downtowns.”

With Thursday marking the final public comment meeting in Schoharie County before plans are submitted, Mahl said things will now move rather quickly.

The compiled, prioritized projects will be submitted to the state for review and tweaking before a final approval vote by the drafting committees. Then they’ll be sent off for federal review by the end of March.

It’s a pretty tight deadline, especially for the towns of Middleburgh and Schoharie, which were added to the program just over a month ago.

After that Mahl said communities should know how much money they’ll receive, and for which project, in another few months. It’s still not clear when actual money will arrive.

 
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