Officials assess North Country flood damage

It’s not the devastating flooding taking place on the lower Mississippi, but it’s bad enough.

It’s not the devastating flooding taking place on the lower Mississippi, but it’s bad enough.

Three weeks after the North Country was first hit by high waters from heavy rains and melting snow, many lakes and streams remain high. It has continued to rain. In Essex County, some roads remain closed.

Along Lake Champlain, hundreds of homes and low-lying areas in both Vermont and New York remain flooded, authorities said.

State officials are currently pursuing a federal disaster declaration, with federal and state emergency response teams doing field inspections in the Adirondacks to document enough damage to qualify.

The declaration would bring federal financial aid to small mountain communities that have been hard-pressed by unprecedented high-water damage to roads, bridges and private property.

“This is the worst flooding I have seen,” said Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish, who has four decades of local public safety experience.

Teams from the state Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are currently in Essex and Clinton counties surveying damage. Repairs will run into the millions of dollars, but totals aren’t yet available.

“Right now it’s still open-ended, because the event is still going on,” said Dennis Michalski, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Management. “I can tell you there’s a lot of damage up there.”

The widespread flooding began around April 28 from a combination of high-altitude and back-country snowmelt and many days of heavy rain. The next day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went to a washed-out bridge site in Essex County and declared the county a state disaster area.

Now, officials are working on the detailed documentation needed to get a federal disaster declaration. That would lead to financial help for repairing local roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure, and possibly compensation for private property damage.

“From a state perspective, we’re doing everything we can to make a strong case for assistance,” Michalski said.

There must be $24.7 million worth of documented damage statewide before Cuomo could apply for a federal disaster declaration.

According to Michalski, there have been reports of flood damage in 25 counties including the Buffalo area, the Finger Lakes, and the Southern Tier.

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The Adirondacks, however, have sustained some of the most severe damage. Clinton, Franklin, Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties have all had significant flood damage.

In Essex County, Jaquish estimated damage to public infrastructure alone has been $6 million. “It is widespread. It covers the entire county,” he said. As of Wednesday, a dozen roads in Essex County — including parts of two state highways — remained closed or usable only with restrictions.

Jaquish went out with a FEMA team looking at damage to private property. Among the places they were expected to visit was the Adrian’s Acres development in Keene Valley, where sliding soil has damaged two upscale homes that were built overlooking the valley. The situation threatens two more houses, according Keene Town Supervisor William B. Ferebee.

In a natural phenomena geologists call “rotational slump,” soil is cracking and then sliding down the mountain at a rate of about 4 inches a day. The problem is exacerbated by the rain, Ferebee said.

“We’ve had cracks in places that are 4-foot wide, 15 to 18 inches deep,” he said.

As a result of the shifting slope, the town has condemned one seasonal house, and recommended the owners leave a nearby year-round house — which they have. Ferebee estimated those houses are worth $500,000 to $700,000 each. Two other houses in the development are potentially at risk.

That and a lot of other damage to private property along the flooded Ausable River could be included in any request for federal disaster aid. Ferebee said there was also significant damage to local roads.

“Most our town roads are dirt, so we’re constantly chasing washouts,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped raining.”

Hamilton County, where there was flooding in both Long Lake and Indian Lake, is estimating it sustained $500,000 in infrastructure damage — a tremendous amount for a county with only 4,800 year-round residents, said county Emergency Services Director Don Purdy.

“There’s a lot more damage if you count businesses,” Purdy said. “It will be a lot more if this lasts into the season. We depend on tourism up here.”

State highways have sustained at least $2.2 million in flooding damage, with $1.4 million of that total in the Adirondacks, according to state Department of Transportation estimates.

“Those are preliminary estimates and the totals will almost certainly be much higher,” said DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen.

DOT will initially seek reimbursement from the Federal Highway Emergency Recovery Fund, but it could turn to FEMA if any of its request is denied, Breen said.

At the state Emergency Management Office, Michalski said damage estimated won’t be totaled until all the on-going emergency situations have been addressed. A report will then be presented to Cuomo.

“Only the governor can make the federal disaster declaration request,” Michalski said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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