By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Just over a year ago, the AuSable River Campsite boasted 130 campsites, a below-ground swimming pool and an elaborate $10,000 playground.
Today, instead of swimmers, the pool is filled with trash, construction debris and pieces of the adjacent, gutted bathhouse.
And all that remains of the playground, which once attracted children with its wooden pirate ship and castle playhouse, is two lone tether-ball poles.
On Aug. 28, 2011, flood waters from Tropical Storm Irene rushed through the campground, located in the Town of AuSable, quickly transforming it from a vacation destination to real-life devastation.
For owners Bob and Josie Stoeckert, the year since the storm has been a difficult one, as the Ausable River, which reached 15 feet high in some parts of the property, wiped out the water, electrical and septic systems and all but 25 of the campsites.
Everyone, including guests of the campground, was able to escape without physical harm, but Irene cut income production of the property by 80 percent, and in return, left the Stoeckerts with about $200,000 in damages.
“We really haven’t spent money on (rebuilding after) Irene because we don’t have it, and we’re devastated,” Mrs. Stoeckert said.
INELIGIBLE FOR FEMA
Though the Federal Emergency Management Agency has released more than $1.5 million in funds to individuals in Clinton County whose homes were damaged in the natural disaster, the Stoeckerts were ineligible for that assistance because it was their business and not their residence that was affected.
The couple did receive $10,000 of a $20,000 Business Flood Recovery Grant from Empire State Development but have not utilized it yet.
In order to obtain the rest of the grant, Mr. Stoeckert said, they must first complete repairs to the property.
Damages to just the bathhouse, which is now covered by the graffiti of vandals, total $50,000.
The Stoeckerts have received no assistance from the town or Clinton County with cleaning up the wreckage, Mr. Stoeckert said. And although friends and neighbors have offered to help, he is concerned that by doing so, they may be injured by the broken glass and nails that litter the site.
“I’m afraid to let them in,” he said.
The couple has received emotional support through the Project Hope Crisis Counseling Program, which was created by the State Office of Mental Health to assist people in Clinton, Essex and 11 other counties suffering from emotional effects related to Irene.
“They have been a lot of help,” Mrs. Stoeckert said.
The top portion of the Stoeckerts’ property, which contains the remaining 25 campsites, has been open this summer to seasonal guests only. Those sites bring in just enough to cover the taxes on the property and cost of insurance for the business, Mr. Stoeckert said.
“My husband has had to start working outside the campground, and we worry about how he’s going to pay his health insurance,” Mrs. Stoeckert said.
The owners of other area campgrounds have begun sending recreational-vehicle repair work her husband’s way to help him bring in some extra income, and as a retired member of the Air Force, he was able to secure medical benefits as a veteran.
FEAR FUTURE FLOODS
Mr. Stoeckert spends his days trying to clean up his former bathhouse and pool area on his own.
He salvages what construction materials he can from the wreckage to reuse or sell.
“We had one door that was salvageable on the (bathhouse) building,” he said.
But even if the Stoeckerts could afford to rebuild on their property, he would be hesitant to do so because of the likelihood that another storm or flood could wash away his efforts.
He plans to use the grant money he has received to create additional campsites on the top portion of the grounds, which has a lower risk of inundation.
Once the couple is able to clear out the rest of the property, they are considering renting it out for day use but haven’t yet decided.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get it cleaned up and safe,” Mr. Stoeckert said.
Email Ashleigh Livingston: firstname.lastname@example.org
A year after the massive Tropical Storm, the North Country is still picking up the pieces. This is the fifth in a series of articles catching up with those who found themselves in the center of the storm as victims and rescuers and what life post-Irene has brought them.