Press-Republican

July 2, 2012

2011 flooding: Through hell and high water

By JEFF MEYERS, Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Seawalls and other shoreline structures needed replacement and repair after the spring 2011 inundation. 

Then, and after Tropical Storm Irene, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowed individuals and communities to get back on their feet more quickly by streamlining the permitting process for flood-related projects, according to Col. John Boule.

The Plattsburgh native, commander of the Army Corps’ New York District, is responsible for environmental projects across the region.

“The region operated under general emergency permits,” he said of the flood and storm aftermath along Lake Champlain, rivers and streams. “It worked well. It eliminated delays and reduced the frustration when working with bureaucracy.

“Our experts were able to assess the situation and step up to help the community with technical advice.”

INTERNATIONAL EFFORT

A major necessity in the interest of preventing future events of that magnitude is to improve drainage issues, including the overall drainage of the region’s central water supply: Lake Champlain itself.

“The International Joint Commission (between the United States and Canada) is working diligently to prevent future flooding,” he said.“They are currently isolating specific issues and plan on having their first report out in December, including a set of proposals” to implement correctable problems.

“We need to balance a number of goals in consideration of all water-resource needs, with a focus on mitigation and what the flood risks are inside the basin,” he continued.

‘NEEDS DREDGING’

Lake Champlain flows north into the Richelieu River; actually, the river begins at about the breakwater off Lake Street in Rouses Point. 

The Richelieu experienced unprecedented flooding, too, in spring 2011. Clinton County Clerk John Zurlo serves on the Citizens Advisory Council of New York and has been in discussions on that topic.

“The Richelieu really needs to be dredged,” he said. “It’s not deep enough; it’s not as wide; it doesn’t flow out as fast, is what people theorize.”

On top of that, in 2011, he said, “we had all that snow.”

 OTHER PROJECTS

Beyond the flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has developed a steady presence in the Lake Champlain Valley to assist lake-management efforts.

“We essentially are responsible for three separate areas: navigation, flood management and environmental restoration,” Boule said.

He was in the Plattsburgh area recently to attend a meeting of the Lake Champlain Basin Program’s Steering Committee.

Projects falling within the navigation parameters included the extensive work recently done on the Plattsburgh Harbor breakwater. The structure was built in 1836 and had steadily deteriorated over the past several decades to a point where it became a navigational hazard for boaters.

“The original structure took 60 to 70 years for it to get built in sections, but we were able to complete repairs in a couple of summers, funded by 100 percent federal money,” Boule said.

The Army Corps is also involved in a major project in Burlington Harbor to remove navigational hazards, including wooden pylons, coffer dams and piping.

BOTTOM LINE

Studying what happened to Lake Champlain last spring can also lead to possible changes in local zoning laws up and down the lake to better address the lake’s current flow, as opposed to a century ago when fewer human-made changes altered that flow.

“A lot of this is state-driven,” Boule said. “The states know what the issues are; they drive the priorities, the topics of discussion. We’re here to lend federal support, but financially and with our expertise.”

The Army Corps of Engineers’ bottom line for work projects is environmental impact. Ongoing regional projects include efforts to reduce the flow of phosphorus-rich water and sediment into Lake Champlain.

New Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.