MALONE — Volunteers braved minus-30-degree wind chill Wednesday to stack sandbags at homes threatened by flood waters on Lower Park Street.
Properties in the 300 block are routinely flooded during the January thaw, when snow melt at higher elevations carries down and swells the Salmon River, sending it over its banks.
But this time, a sustained arctic blast at the same time of year drove temperatures below zero and kept them there, causing the river to freeze farther south than usual, said Town Supervisor Howard Maneely.
“There’s anchor ice in there,” he said. “It started near our new handicapped-access point in an area where we’ve never had problems before.”
Water has frozen several inches thick on the lawns of 353 Lower Park St. and 363 Lower Park St., but Maneely said both homes are now vacant.
With Town Highway Department workers and some Malone Callfiremen already helping at the site, Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost asked for at least two volunteer firefighters each from Constable, Westville and Bangor to come stack sandbags.
It was 10 degrees below zero about 9:45 a.m. when the volunteers were called in, and Emergency Services dispatchers warned them to dress for extreme weather, including wearing rubber boots, because the wind-chill factor could reach 30 below.
WATCHING THE WATER
Once the County Highway Department pickup truck was backed into place, the responders formed a bucket-brigade line beside and behind 319 Lower Park St., lifting filled sandbags off and passing them person to person until each white sack was placed.
Maneely said 50 to 60 sand bags would be used at each of two homes in the most immediate danger of flooding once temperatures go up.
“I’m praying it warms up to zero,” the supervisor said. “The lawns on two homes are flooded.”
At about 12:30 p.m., town officials decided to close the street between Shears Road and Park Street.
This section of Lower Park has been especially vulnerable to flooding for nearly 15 years.
In 1987, Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. (now National Grid) was fined by the State Department of Environmental Conservation for releasing tons of sediment and silt into the Salmon River near Titus Mountain Family Ski Center on Johnson Road.
But the material was never removed, and it migrated north to Lower Park Street, where the water has become so shallow there is barely any current to wash the silt out.
Town and village officials were told in June by Army Corps of Engineer representatives that it would cost about $100,000 to study the feasibility of removing the sediment and at least $1 million to do the work.
They said it may be cheaper for the town to offer the property owners buyouts instead of paying for the silt remediation.
The Army Corps conducted a study of the Salmon River in August, but a report of the findings has not been generated yet.
Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@Pressrepublican.com