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Off the Northway: Sacandaga gives resident the blues

Saturday, August 11, 2012
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Rain in the forecast makes Brett VanderVolgen nervous.

He lives in a converted bar overlooking Great Sacandaga Lake in Edinburg, a chip shot from the Batchellerville Bridge. The property has flooded three times since 2009. The Batcheller Creek, overflowing in heavy rains, has cut a channel next to the house that’s still there, filled with exposed stones.

VanderVolgen’s understandably afraid it will happen again. He wishes someone in government would do something to control the stream, which flows off Fox Hill and down a slope, passing behind his house. He says he doesn’t have the money for repairs himself.

Various government agencies have agreed there’s a problem, but other than one $4,500 payment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damage compensation, none has offered money to fix the situation.

“I’ve been calling people for three years, and I can’t get anywhere,” said VanderVolgen, who is disabled.

In extreme rain events — the kind we seem to have more and more of — the creek overflows at a low point behind his home, giving every indication of wanting to cut a new channel for itself, with his place in the middle.

“It’s innocuous-looking now, but in a storm it’s as high as your head,” VanderVolgen told me Thursday, as I stood at the edge of the beautiful stone-lined creek, only a few feet from his house and a few yards from where it passes under South Shore Road and out into the lake.

The first time, a microburst in July 2009 dumped several inches of rain in the hills east of the lake. Elsewhere in town, chunks of South Shore Road washed away and the town declared an emergency. VanderVolgen and his wife, Dian, found their house surrounded by water. He’s got the pictures to prove it.

The property flooded in the same way last August during Tropical Storm Irene, and on one other occasion, too, VanderVolgen said.

“I’m just scared to death I’m going to lose my property,” said the 53-year-old, a one-time emergency responder whom Capital Region night-owls might remember from a couple of decades ago, when he was “The Hit Man” playing classic blues overnight on PYX-106.

In 1990, he bought the bar on South Shore Road next to the creek, dubbed it Lady of the Lake, and started bringing in blues bands, some of them national names like James Cotton and Gatemouth Brown.

“This was my dream, to come up here and live on the lake,” VanderVolgen said. “Now it’s all I have.”

Saratoga County public works and emergency services officials have evaluated the situation, as has the Saratoga County Soil and Water Conservation District. But they all either find no risk to public property or they don’t have funding available.

There’s a basic problem that the state constitution generally prohibits spending taxpayer money on private property improvements, and even flood repairs can be seen as an improvement.

“It’s unfortunate he’s having the problem, but it is not something public money can be spent on,” Edinburg town Supervisor Jean Raymond said.

VanderVolgen is persisting, though, calling senators, his congressman, state legislators, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, even the governor’s office. He remains frustrated.

“I don’t know where to turn next,” he said.

 
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