November 16, 2012

APA approves variance for flood-protection wall


---- — RAY BROOK — Harrietstown was granted a variance to build a taller retaining wall behind the Town Hall.

The project was brought to Adirondack Park Agency commissioners Thursday for review because the new wall will be 3 to 4 feet taller than the existing wall, built more than 100 years ago, which was ruined by spring flooding and in Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Snow melt and rain pushed the Saranac Lakes locks to overflowing in April and May of that year and sent Lake Flower to historic high-water levels.

The town was able to steadily release water at Lake Flower hydro dam, although the lake breached the Main Street bridge and damaged hydro-point park, threatening to inundate the Town Hall.


APA staff planner Tracy Darrah said the damage was reviewed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the flood subsided 18 months ago.

Since then, town and Village of Saranac Lake officials have completed engineering review and design and achieved FEMA funding review, twice.

“This is very heavily damaged in this area and not repairable,” she said, showing photos of where the ruined flood-protection wall skirts up to the Route 3 bridge abutment and along the Saranac River.


The wall runs along the waterfront edge of the Town Hall and past the parking lot.

The hall is the emergency shelter for Saranac Lake schools and the community, Darrah said.

“And (the Town Hall) would not be able to be protected adequately if the retaining wall is not replaced. (The current wall) would not protect from future flooding and could be further damaged.”

The project will replace and expand a 105-foot retaining wall within the 50-foot mean high-water mark of the Saranac River.


The new wall is designed to be 137 feet long with extensions 9 feet south to protect the Route 3 bridge abutment; a new 18-foot section east at the south end; and a 5-foot extension east at the north end of the wall.

It will be built out of Redi-Rock, an interlocking wall system made of natural materials. Northwoods Engineering, based in Saranac Lake, designed the new structure.

The 3-to-4-foot height meets building codes and is designed to reduce future flooding potential, Darrah explained.

“Since the retaining-wall site is located in a hamlet, this is not a Rivers (Act) project.”

In addition, the flood-protection project allows 400 square feet of stone riprap to be placed along the river side of the wall to prevent scour damage.


APA held a public hearing on the proposed wall on Sept. 24 in Harrietstown.

No one from the public attended the meeting, Darrah said, and no comment letters were received by APA in the review process.

The River Walk boardwalk that winds against the waterfront will remain in place outside of the retaining wall.

The flood-protection device is located on property owned by Harrietstown. The Town Hall also houses Village of Saranac Lake offices.

APA staff said proper storm-water-control systems would be used during construction to protect the Saranac River.


Harrietstown also needs final permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State Department of Transportation and the State Department of Environmental Conservation to complete the work.

Darrah told commissioners the town is working hard to obtain the permits and that construction would likely begin next spring.

The Regulatory Programs Committee voted unanimously to approve the variance, and the project met full board approval Thursday.

The town is waiting for a revised cost estimate from FEMA to put the project in motion.

Harrietstown appealed the original cost estimate made by FEMA .

Insurance did not cover flood damage to the retaining wall.

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