Flood barrier plan for Schoharie County buildings falls short of creek crest

Saturday, September 22, 2012
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A gate was erected at the outset of a $9.1 million post-flood rebuilding project for Schoharie County's office complex on Main Street. Supervisors on Friday learned flood barriers planned for the job are too short to protect the building from flood levels reached during Tropical Storm Irene.
A gate was erected at the outset of a $9.1 million post-flood rebuilding project for Schoharie County's office complex on Main Street. Supervisors on Friday learned flood barriers planned for the job are too short to protect the building from flood levels reached during Tropical Storm Irene.

— Plans for Schoharie County’s post-flood rebuilding call for flood barriers, but as designed they would be nearly 2 feet below the height last summer’s floods reached at the county office complex.

With work already begun on the interior of the Main Street office building, the last-minute discovery represents a “serious snag” in flood mitigation plans, County Treasurer William Cherry told county supervisors Friday.

About $3.5 million in flood protection measures are planned for the $9.1 million county office building reconstruction project.

The system entails building barriers that rise out of the ground at entrances to form a shield to keep flood water out of the building. The project also calls for relocating windows above the level of flooding.

A similar system saved Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton last year when the Susquehanna River surrounded the facility with 8 feet of water. The barriers there are 11 feet tall.

Specifications for Schoharie County’s office complex call for barriers to protect up to 612 feet above sea level — but the Schoharie Creek reached 613.5 feet Aug. 28, 2011.

Supervisors on Friday agreed unanimously they want the barriers to protect at least to 614 feet above sea level. But Cherry said engineers are unsure if it’s possible to build barriers to that level.

“The truth is I don’t and they don’t know the answer,” he said. Cherry asked architects and engineers to revisit the plans and see if they can be changed. Their report is due in 30 days.

Supervisor Eugene Milone, D-Schoharie, said, “It’s kind of hard to digest that anyone with a degree [could have missed it]. Somebody made a mistake.”

Some supervisors questioned whether the issue was brought up in the past.

Board Chairman Harold Vroman, R-Summit, said it was his understanding the county’s goal was to protect the building to at least the height of Tropical Storm Irene flooding.

Supervisor Robert Mann Jr., R-Blenheim, asked Cherry to learn whether architects on the project will be re-drawing plans at their own expense.

Cherry in his report to supervisors said engineers planned the work using the standard “500-year flood” elevation levels.

A similar situation exists for flood mitigation plans at the Public Safety Facility on Depot Lane, where flood protection measures as planned are about 2 feet below last year’s flood height.

“Obviously, we are going back to the drawing board,” Cherry said.

The setback at the public safety facility is not as problematic as the county office complex issue because formal blueprints are not yet drawn up for that work.

Also, there’s extra land and room to build different flood protection measures at the public safety facility as well, Cherry said. The jail rebuild is expected to cost $6 million with another $4 million in flood mitigation work.

The county office complex work is more complicated because the work has already begun. And there’s no extra room for construction at the facility, situated tightly on the corner of Main and Spring streets.

Further complicating the process is the fact that the work requires attention to historic preservation since it includes the 1870 County Courthouse attached to the county offices.

The snafu led some supervisors to again question the prudence in rebuilding the Depot Lane public safety facility where it sits now instead of moving it well away from the reach of the Schoharie Creek.

Some asked if other options could be put “back on the table” and be considered by FEMA.

Cherry said FEMA will only pay to rebuild the facility where it is. And another jail would cost approximately $35 million.

It was unclear Friday how the snag would affect reimbursement from FEMA were the flood barriers to be built as planned, or if FEMA would agree to another set of plans altogether.

Following a review of bids, the county board in early August hired four primary contractors for the office building reconstruction work.

The county hired Bette & Cring of Latham as general contractor for about $2 million and T. Lemme of Albany for plumbing at $288,700. Family Danz of Albany won the heating and air conditioning contract for $1.92 million and $941,870 in electrical work was awarded to Kasselman Electric of Albany.

The architectural firm that drew up plans for the county office complex, LaBella Associates of Rochester, won a $318,000 contract to draft plans for the public safety facility rebuilding project for which BBL Construction Services was hired as construction manager.

LaBella Associates representative Mark Kukuvka said Friday he was unable to comment due to company policy.

 

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