Press-Republican

April 21, 2013

Sometimes, weather wins

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Flooding on Lower Park Street here is nothing new.

This time, in late January, a 4,000-foot ice jam clogged the Salmon River, sending frazil ice and water across lawns, into basements and straight down the street, flooding properties on both sides of Lower Park.

The homes heaviest hit were from 181 to 353 Lower Park, where a garage was ripped from its foundation by the rushing water, and on past 377 Lower Park, where an adult home is situated near the bridge at the intersection with Brand Road.

AT LEAST SINCE ‘58

The Town of Malone says the flooding, which repeats almost every year, was caused by Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., now National Grid, when it released massive amounts of sediment into the Salmon River in 1997.

But according to Dave Werner, district manager for Niagara Mohawk from 1975 to 1994, inundation along Lower Park had been happening since at least 1958.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked on the river that year between Ballard Mill and Cady Road, which is today called Brand Road.

That 1958 mitigation effort came up at a work session of the Franklin County Office of Civil Defense in 1982, as that agency — the precursor to County Emergency Services — was trying to get a handle on Lower Park Street flooding as well.

SOME FED UP

The latest flooding, which necessitated several orders by Town Supervisor Howard Maneely and closed a section of Lower Park for almost a month, prompted efforts for a solution that would move people out of harm’s way.

Homeowners will meet with State Office of Emergency Services soon about a mitigation plan that may mean a buyout of their flood-damaged properties.

Ten owners on Lower Park Street will be invited to an informational meeting to be held by the end of the month, Maneely said.

The town submitted information to the state on property assessments for the impacted properties to get the process going, which can’t be soon enough for some owners, who said they have had enough of dealing with chronic flooding.

State officials are expected to detail the plans and figure out the best way to compensate the owners for their losses and help the town find a permanent solution to the flooding there.

Maneely said that could include raising the roadway by 10 feet.

EMBRACED BUYOUTS

Any buyouts could take as long as two years to complete.

The land on which those homes sit would be owned by the town; no permanent construction would be allowed so that future flooding of the river would not put property and residents’ lives there at risk ever again.

That was a solution embraced by the Village of Champlain, where buyouts removed all but one home on River Street and razed others on Main Street some years ago; AuSable Forks and Morrisonville also emptied some flood-prone land the same way.

And a number of homeowners in another section of AuSable Forks are waiting to learn the details of a possible buyout now, still reeling from sudden and dangerous flooding in May 2011 along with further devastation from Tropical Storm Irene in August of that year.

DEJA VU

Back in ‘82, a news release from Franklin County Office of Civil Defense included a passage that seems familiar to today’s woes: It had been determined, the agency said, that “there was no short-term solution or quick way of ending the present problem.”

But it said that keeping a channel open for the river water to run on Lower Park Street “prevented an even higher level of floodwater and ice from backing up and around the presently inundated structures.”

Both the State Department of Environmental Conservation and Army Corps said at the time “there was no way the present flooding could have been prevented,” and the DEC “ruled out use of dynamite” to break up the ice jams that caused it.

NiMo said that even opening the dam at Park Street would not relieve the flooding.

By the end of the 1982 session, it was advised that homeowners should buy flood insurance and keep valuables away from flood-prone areas of their homes.

TOWN COSTS

Battling the latest Lower Park Street flooding didn’t come cheap.

But, Maneely said, the town may be eligible for reimbursement for those costs.

According to monthly logs kept by the Highway Department, either Highway Superintendent Thomas Shanty or members of his team were at Lower Park several days during late January and early February.

Shanty was first called in at 12:30 a.m. Jan. 23 after 911 dispatchers warned him about rising water. Three workers were sent over to sandbag later that day and periodically used a loader to push ice off the street in an attempt to return the river to its banks for the next few weeks.

Multiple checks continued nearly every day until Feb. 22 when the street was finally reopened to traffic.

— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.