Saratoga County

Agencies probe flood plain permits

The city of Mechanicville has permitted construction of about 14 houses or other building project


The city of Mechanicville has permitted construction of about 14 houses or other building projects since 1995 that are out of compliance with federal regulations for a flood plain.

A state official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that the Department of Environmental Conservation is assisting the Federal Emergency Management Agency in investigating the matter.

Mayor Anthony Sylvester confirmed that the properties are noncompliant with FEMA regulations, but said the substantive issues are minor and in some cases just a matter of paper work. He said he is confident that the matter can be resolved.

Examples of those regulations city officials cited include the placement of electrical outlets, elevation of the structure and the type of basement construction.

Much of the city near the Hudson River and the Anthony Kill, which runs into the Hudson, is defined as a flood plain, where homeowners can obtain insurance through the federal government.

The National Flood Insurance Program, according to its Web site, offers “flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners, with the one condition that their communities adopt and enforce measures to help reduce the consequences of flooding. …

“FEMA works closely with state and local officials to identify flood hazard areas and flood risks. Floodplain management requirements within high-risk areas … are designed to prevent new development from increasing the flood threat and to protect new and existing buildings from anticipated flood events.”

Accounts Commissioner Mark Seber said the city’s approval of the noncompliant projects could conceivably affect this insurance program, or lead to the city being liable if structural changes are required.

FEMA did not respond to requests for comment, and a DEC spokesman declined to comment.

The matter has been raised with the city and the DEC by Brian Rohloff, a developer who wants to build a six-house subdivision on Edna Avenue, in the southern part of the city in the flood plain. So far, the city has not approved Rohloff’s plans, and issued him a stop-work order.

“They’re not enforcing it with anybody but they’re enforcing it with me,” Rohloff said of the flood-zone regulations. He said houses are currently being built on Saratoga Avenue, near the Anthony Kill in the flood plain, that are noncompliant with FEMA regulations.

Rohloff had obtained a substantial amount of fill, brown clay and black shale, that he planned to use on Edna Avenue. In response to the stop-work order, he dumped the fill on a lot he owns in downtown Mechanicville on North Main Street, at the former site of Joyce’s Log Cabin. The fill has sat there all summer and weeds are growing on the clay.

Rohloff said he has owned the Joyce’s site for three or four years and had intended to build a strip mall there but couldn’t get approval from the city. He said he aims to keep the fill there unless the Edna Avenue project is approved.

But Rohloff was reluctant to talk about the Joyce’s property, saying the issue he is concerned about is building on the flood plain, and the city’s failure to comply with the federal rules. While the Joyce’s site is next to the Anthony Kill, it is not in the flood plain, according to a map Rohloff showed a reporter.

Sylvester said he believes Rohloff will get approval from the city for the Edna Avenue project.

City Building Inspector Stephen Sgambati was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Rohloff alleged that the city has given his projects a hard time, failing to respond to numerous letters, because he is from out of town. He lives in Valley Falls in Rensselaer County.

“The running joke is I’m not Italian,” he said.

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