Press-Republican

January 26, 2013

Flooding prompts emergency declaration

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — A state of emergency was declared Friday on Lower Park Street as a 4,000-foot ice jam continued to force the Salmon River over its banks.

A steady flow of water was still running through back yards along the shore, across the street and into the front lawns of homes on the east side of Lower Park houses that had been evacuated earlier in the week.

VOLUNTEERS PRAISED

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) postponed several appointments in Plattsburgh to visit Malone and see the flooding first-hand.

“I’m a visual person, and I can better understand what’s going on when I can see it for myself,” she said.

“We can’t do a whole lot until we have an estimate of the damage. Then we’ll be able to decide the next step.”

Duprey, bundled in a thick coat, scarf, gloves and boots against the 10-degree weather and sharp breeze, was already scheduled to meet with Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) later Friday and said she would also speak with Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsurgh) about what she saw and learned from the town and Franklin County officials who accompanied her.

“My heart breaks for the people who have had to leave their homes,” she said. “I’m not going to make any false promises, but I will be meeting with the congressman and senator and see what kind of help can be offered.”

Duprey praised the volunteers and employees who have helped the displaced families and worked to minimize the damages.

“They’re working with the short term, and we’ll have to look at the long term to see what can be done,” the assemblywoman said.

“It’s important for people to see what’s going on.”

LOADER RIDE

Malone Town Highway Department crews used a front-end loader to taxi personnel into impacted homes in the 300 block of the street to retrieve items for owners forced out by the ice and flooding, said County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost.

“The tracks from the loader created a channel that alleviated some of the water going to the right side of the street,” he said. “But it’s just going to freeze back up.”

He said the river is between 9 and 10 feet over its banks, and the water was about 3½ feet deep in the street.

STUCK IN ICE

A driver who was trying to get out of the poor conditions ended up with even more headaches when the vehicle got stuck at the bottom of the hill at Mattimore Road and became imbedded in ice, Provost said.

Town Supervisor Howard Maneely said the town hoped the work to break up the ice would force the water back to its original course.

“It looks like it’s receding,” he said.

Five homes were evacuated Wednesday and Thursday, and power was shut off to avoid more problems.

The last home in that section that still had electricity was to be shut off Friday.

WELLS CONTAMINATED

Officials decided to use the loader to ferry a National Grid worker in to cut the power, and Provost was planning to deliver cases of bottled water to nearby homeowners whose drilled wells have been contaminated with river water.

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) planned to tour the flooded area on Friday afternoon.

It was 1 degree below zero about 9:30 a.m. Friday as a stiff breeze from the west irritated those assessing the damage and making decisions.

But Provost said there is little anyone can do because of the volume of ice and the extended sub-zero temperatures, which are expected to continue until Tuesday.

“It’s 4,000 feet long, so there’s no way to mitigate it,” he said of the ice jam. “We’ve been dealing with this for 10 years, and something’s got to be done.

“I don’t know if you raise the road or what, because if you raise the road, you’ll flood the houses,” Provost said, gesturing toward 353 Lower Park and 363 Lower Park, which are already surrounded by icy flood water.

He said another idea is to try to involve the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which might have a role by declaring this part of town a flood-mitigation area.

COSTLY SOLUTION

Flooding here goes back almost 15 years when Niagara Mohawk, now National Grid, released a massive amount of sediment and silt from Chasm Falls hydroelectric dam several miles to the south.

The release choked off the river’s current, reducing the water depth from 22 feet to just 6 inches.

National Grid paid a fine to the State Department of Environmental Conservation for the sediment release.

The dam is now owned by Brookfield Power, which renewed its license with the Federal Regulatory Commission for 40 years in 2008.

The agreement states the company must remove shoals near Brand Road Bridge and sediment behind its existing dam, but that has not been done, and the town says it can’t afford to force Brookfield do the work.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggested five years ago that the town get federal officials involved for possible dredging to solve the problems.

But they cautioned that the town would have to pay part of the $500,000 study of the river’s condition and some of the $2 million remediation cost.

The town’s share would be about 35 percent, or $875,000, based on the cost estimates made in 2008.

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com