Press-Republican

June 18, 2012

Upper Jay Fire District looks to next steps

Insurance won't cover half of cost to rebuild

By KIM SMITH DEDAM, Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — JAY — The $900,000 insurance settlement for the Upper Jay fire station is a start, but the Fire Commission still needs more funding.

Commission Chairman Bryan Walton said they voted Wednesday to accept the figure and were waiting for final paperwork.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo mediated the insurance settlement with help from state insurance officials earlier this week.

HIGH AND DRY

The fire station sits along the Ausable River, a site that has been inundated repeatedly in the past 60 years.

“We are going to try to move (forward on replacement),” Walton said. “But that depends entirely on financing. We have a location site selected at 99 Valley Road, directly across from the Town of Jay highway garage, way up high and dry in the fields.”

The 3.2-acre property is privately owned and located about 1.5 miles from Ward Lumber Company.

“The fire station is in a 100-year flood plain. There is a mark on the front of the firehouse showing the base flood-elevation,” Walton said of their assessment review.

Base flood-elevation is a high-water mark indicating a 1 percent chance per year in 100 years of floodwater depth.

The mark on the Upper Jay fire station is nearly 2 1/2 feet above the floor.

“The flood that came through in Tropical Storm Irene was approximately 3 feet over that,” Walton said.

“Approximately 5 1/2 feet of water came through the fire station.”

AMBULANCE ELSEWHERE

High water from Irene’s deluge on Aug. 28, 2011, swept firefighters’ bunker gear and other contents of the fire station into the river.

“The only gear that wasn’t lost was the gear being worn at the time,” Walton said.

“As it was, firefighters had very short time to pack up and leave. We left half of our equipment — fire trucks and vehicles — on one side of the river and half on the other, so we could help our district on either side of the flooded area.”

Upper Jay’s fire station houses five response vehicles.

But the ambulance is stored at the Jay fire station about 5 miles east.

“We have not had that in our station since the flood, because one of our bays was incapacitated,” Walton explained of the temporary arrangement.

“The Jay Volunteer Fire Department is short of space and would like to return it to us.”

SHORT OF FUNDING

Upper Jay fire commissioners and Town of Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas have sought assistance from federal emergency recovery specialists.

Finding additional financing is the next hurdle — a new fire station may cost over $2 million to build given new codes for public-safety building construction, energy-efficiency requirements and laws governing prevailing wage rates in New York state.

“We are very short on financing. What we are looking for and hoping for is a directed move from FEMA,” Walton said.

Enacted in the interest of public safety, a directed move falls under mitigation response to prevent future flood impact.

In order to qualify for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designation, the Upper Jay Fire Commission has to prove repeated incidents of flooding.

The fire station is at an elevation somewhat lower than the Land of Make Believe situated just across the river, which was suffered major damage many times over the years and destroyed by Irene.

“The town historian has done some research — flooding occurred here from ice dams in 1992, 1996, 1998; there was a major flood in 1986, 1976, 1955, with numerous smaller ones in between.”

CAN’T TAX TO BUILD

A directed move would garner federal funds, but even that may not cover the cost of new construction.

The shortfall is something that fire commissioners of Upper Jay can’t bring to taxpayers.

“We have a big geographical area to cover in our district,” Walton said. “But we are limited because we only have 125 to 145 parcels.”

And some of those properties — and houses on them — were destroyed in the flood.

Upper Jay is a small hamlet south and west of the Town of Jay.

The central settlement has a post office, the Wells Library, Recovery Lounge theater, space and furniture restoration shop, along with several motel and lodging properties. Several businesses in the hamlet were destroyed in the August flood.

FEMA DESIGNATION

The Upper Jay Commission have been working with a project manager from Hueber-Breuer Construction Company’s Division of Fire Protection Services, the same company that engineered Keene’s new fire station about 9 miles down Route 9. 

Keene Volunteer Fire Department’s station was also wrecked by Irene.

That entity is hoping to break ground in early August on its new site across from Stewart’s Shop.

But in Upper Jay, the timeline is still in the works.

“We really can’t get that far until the FEMA designation is final,” Walton said. “We are hoping that, with the insurance settled, things will move along more quickly.”

Once the funding strategy is secured, any new construction would have to go to a Fire District referendum vote, just as was done in Keene in April.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com