When asked whether the town government is seeing the second flood as a fluke or as a harbinger of climate change effects to come, Shandaken supervisor R. A. Stanley said he doesn’t know about the science, but “we’re living in it, and we assume we’ll end up with another high-water event.”
On Friday, December 3, Stanley and town highway department head Eric Hofmeister met with representatives of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program (AWSMP), and Ulster County Soil and Water Conservation District. The officials visited the confluence of the Stony Clove Creek and Esopus River, where the most acute flooding has occurred, putting Phoenicia’s Main Street underwater on both recent occasions.
“The DEP is considering the option of creating some kind of channel modification for the Stony Clove Creek as an immediate response, while figuring out some longer-term solutions for the spring,” said Stanley. “It looks like the DEC is going to let us go into stream in the coming week or two to dig it out, as an emergency measure to rectify the situation.”
Elizabeth Higgins, Program Coordinator at AWSMP, said the DEP has offered the services of an engineering firm, Malone and McBroom, to meet with officials on Wednesday, December 8. She said, “We’ll be bringing the engineers out and looking at data from the Stony Clove and Esopus assessments.” She was referring to measurements of the waterways in terms of water depth, speed, topography, and other parameters, undertaken over the past few years as part of AWSMP’s mission to help protect and manage streams in the watershed. “The measurements provide a good baseline that would be needed for a preliminary engineering study, to see if there improvements that can be made. At this point, we don’t know if there are any solutions that would completely eliminate risk to the area.”
No easy fix
Higgins acknowledged the problem of sedimentation under the Main Street bridge, which crosses the Stony Clove, but she isn’t sure engineers will see digging out the creek bottom as a solution. “It’s complicated. One of the issues is that during many flood situations, the level of the Esopus is actually higher than the level of the Stony Clove, so water backs up at the confluence — that needs to be taken into consideration. A channel modification in the Stony Clove wouldn’t necessarily improve that.”
She said the officials who attended Friday’s meeting are “very concerned about the community. We understand the concerns and fears of businesses and residents. It’s hard because the buildings are really poorly located, at the confluence of two very active streams, and the buildings are so close to the streams. There’s no quick and easy fix.”
If Governor Paterson approves Cahill’s request to declare a State Disaster Emergency, the town and its residents will be able to apply for federal disaster recovery funds. Cahill’s letter to Paterson states that “…over the last few years we have witnessed massive and unprecedented flood events that have resulted in the loss of life and millions of dollars of damage to properties located throughout Upstate New York. The Town of Shandaken has been hit particularly hard, creating an enormous strain on the local government…I urge you to use all resources at your disposal to assist this community in its recovery efforts while directing the DEC to use its authority to the fullest extent possible to ensure our waterways are being properly managed in order to mitigate any damage from future storms.”
Wendy Rosenbach, spokesperson for the DEC, confirmed that the agency has been in discussion with Stanley and is expecting a proposal from the town regarding some kind of work on the stream. “I can’t comment until have we have the application in front of us, and they’re working on that,” she said. “We have to make sure the plans take into consideration the whole watershed, including possible downstream impacts. Changes could make flooding worse downstream. They have to come up with a plan and come to us. Our guys go out into the field, look at the situation, and describe what would work and what would not.”
Daytime floods easier
Stanley said the December 1 flood hit hard in Chichester, Broadstreet Hollow, and Woodland Valley but was not as widespread as the October 1 event, which caused extensive damage in Oliverea. Since then, the highway department has done channel modification to put the stream in Oliverea back in its original channel. “It had changed course and was running through residences on Brown Road,” Stanley explained. “In the spring we’re looking to get some vegetation planted along the banks. The changes were sufficient to protect the area this time, although we didn’t have the volume of water we had in October. But if we had left it alone, it could have been a problem, since the stream was directed toward all the residences in the area.”
He said that on December 1, the town services were on the spot, with the fire department notified well before the state of emergency was declared. “They had already been receiving calls about basement flooding. The highway department was on call as soon as we saw the waters were rising. They started knocking on doors, asking people if they wanted to leave. Most people decided to stay.”
Although the Red Cross had set up beds and food at Belleayre Ski Center as a place for evacuated residents to stay, no one took advantage of the shelter. “Most people were out at work,” said Stanley, noting that the first flood had occurred in the night, while the second peaked in the late afternoon. “It was a lot easier for us to deal with in the daytime rather than at night.”++
Frustration: Shandaken residents tell town board
they’re upset with pace of flood help
Local residents and business owners came before the Shandaken Town Board on Monday, December 6, seeking, and at times pleading, for answers in the wake of the second ruinous flood to hit the area in recent months.
The town’s councilpersons listened intently, yet spoke little, as Supervisor Rob Stanley took the brunt of the citizens concerns and served as the sole voice on behalf of the board.
“As many of you are aware our town once again survived a near devastating flood on Wednesday, December 1,” Stanley told the gathered. “I think our town emergency response teams and fire departments did a tremendous job responding to all anticipated and unanticipated issues throughout the flood and after.” He also praised the town’s Highway Department for their hard work throughout the week.
As for dealing with the aftermath of the destructive flood, Stanley highlighted a December 3 meeting (see story, page 1) where he and Highway Superintendent Eric Hofmeister met with officials from the DEC, DEP, Ulster County Soil and Water and Cornell Cooperative.
According to Stanley the parties discussed “possible mitigation measures, specifically concerning the intersection of the Stony Clove Creek and the Esopus Creek.”
For the short-term, Stanley announced that they are considering “channel modifications” within the Stony Clove Creek in anticipation of high waters once again in the spring as the snow begins to melt.
For the long-term, Stanley said, “we will work towards a longer and more permanent solution to alleviate these issues in the future.” He also indicated that more meetings are scheduled in the upcoming week to discuss these measures further.
Stanley also read a letter sent to the Governors office by State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. In the letter Cahill stated, “I respectively request you to utilize your authority to declare a state disaster emergency to provide the town and its residents with the opportunity to apply for federal aide to assist in the recovery efforts.”
Despite these actions, those in attendance wanted more answers and faster action. Some wanted answers from the DEC and DEP personally, stating that they should be in attendance to answer questions. Others wanted to know from where and how much possible aide, if any, may be coming, as Supervisor Stanley dismissed any possibility of FEMA aide.
Requests were even tearful, as the economic consequences of the flood’s damages have put some local businesses in danger of having to go out of business.
The tension in the room grew as it became more and more obvious that this last flood has put the town in a tough situation. That tension was also met with some degree of hopelessness as it became obvious that assistance, if any, would be slow in coming.
Supervisor Stanley expressed his strong frustrations and anger over the entire situation. He also agreed with those in attendance that organization within the community to contact higher ups would certainly help in trying to get more answers and action.
Seeking reinstatement of Belleayre jobs
In other Town Board business, in response to recent layoffs by New York State at Belleayre Mountain, the board unanimously passed a “Resolution Supporting Re-instatement of Belleayre Jobs.” Within the resolution, the town requested “a more equitable distribution of layoffs by reinstatement of permanent positions being cut at Belleayre Mt.” A copy of the resolution is to be passed on to state authorities related to the layoffs, Stanley indicated.
As recommended by the state, the Town Board also unanimously adopted a new Dog Law, as well as a resolution that will now require town employees with a “Single Plan” through the town’s healthcare plan to contribute “10 percent of the total cost of said health plan.” The Town board noted that other town employees with the “Family Plan” already contribute 25 percent and that those with the “Single with Dependants Plan” holders contribute 15 percent.
The meeting was adjourned in memory of Sinah Gale. ++