Citizens want new Gilboa Dam study

A Schoharie County watchdog group is demanding an independent review of the 85-year-old Gilboa Dam’s

A Schoharie County watchdog group is demanding an independent review of the 85-year-old Gilboa Dam’s post-flood condition and asking whether the city of New York shouldn’t consider building a new one.

Representatives of Dam Concerned Citizens are also questioning why county officials weren’t made aware of a 200-foot notch cut into the concrete structure’s spillway, or of a wooden bulkhead that failed during flooding from Hurricane Irene.

The concerns were aired during a meeting of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors Friday in Carlisle Town Hall.

The county supervisors called on U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, to help get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or another agency to clear out the tons of debris sitting in creeks and streams that could cause more flooding come springtime.

Sherrie Bartholomew, citizens president, said the group wants those responsible for the dam — the New York City Department of Environmental Protection — to provide complete details on the dam’s condition before and after the Aug. 28 deluge.

The group is also asking for a third-party review of data to learn why equipment that gauges the dam’s strength and measures the flow of water over it failed at the height of the storm.

There needs to be more of these gauges, Bartholomew said. “Additional instrumentation on a greatly eroded and stressed dam that is nearly 90 years old is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

The collapse of a temporary structure built where a 200-foot notch was cut out of the top of the dam caused a surge of floodwater equal to a sudden increase of 25 percent in volume, she said.

The lack of full information about the dam reconstruction project, Bartholomew said, supports the call for an independent engineer, answerable to the public. The NYC DEP should pay the salary for that independent engineer and staff, who should live “below the dam or north of the dam, where we live,” Bartholomew said.

Distrust report

Howard Bartholomew, also a member of Dam Concerned Citizens, said his trust of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection eroded when the agency sent out an analysis contending the dam was fine just days after the structure withstood record-breaking water flow.

“It’s hard to understand how any kind of satisfactory inspection can be performed on the structure and the sides of the Gilboa Dam when water was still rushing over the spillway, and to be assessed in terms of its structural integrity,” he said.

Flooded-out homes in Schoharie and Middleburgh are still being inspected by codes people to determine if they’re structurally sound. “I’m sure the inspection of some of these houses is taking longer than this inspection took place at the Schoharie Reservoir, so that’s a legitimate question,” Howard Bartholomew said.

He said there should be no question that an independent, third-party analysis of the dam is in order.

Traditionally, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been charged with dam inspections, he said. “It was under their watch that the Schoharie Reservoir and the Gilboa Dam got in such deplorable conditions initially.”

Citizens group member Gail Shaffer, a former New York secretary of state who lives near the dam, said the Gilboa Dam and Schoharie Reservoir sat without maintenance for 50 years and the fact that the dam survived is “truly a miracle.”

Public hearings are in order to completely review what took place before and after the flooding to ensure that everything is disclosed, she said. Once a thorough analysis is completed, Shaffer said, the city should consider building a new dam. She said she believes the water is so contaminated now that the reservoir will have to be drained and dredged anyway.

“I think it may be time, when we look at all the results, for them to consider scrapping this poor, pathetic 85-year-old dam that’s been through so much neglect over the years and so much compromise,” Shaffer said.

Asked for a response concerning the local group’s claims, Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Michael Saucier provided the following statement via email: “That’s addressed in the report that we sent DEC and the media.” The report Saucier refers to is the one that Dam Concerned Citizens is questioning because of the speed with which it was developed.

Tonko told officials he’s pressing for sufficient funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist the communities affected by the flood. He said the debris strewn along the creeks, which he saw on his way to Friday’s meeting, has to be addressed because it’s a “tragedy in the making.”

County supervisors are asking for help in getting a thorough review of the hydrology of the Schoharie Creek and its tributaries, which heavily damaged several villages and destroyed dozens of structures and farmland.

Esperance Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III told Tonko there should be changes made to the way FEMA addresses assistance for people.

One flood victim Van Wormer talked to went to FEMA and was given $52 for damages.

Another was offered $150, Van Wormer said. “When people hear that, it just adds to their frustration,” he said.

Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe said the volume of trees and structures littering the shores of creeks and streams is a critical issue. The debris, if left in place, could cause blockages during the annual snow melt that’s often accompanied by ice-jam flooding.

“If we don’t do something now we may be in the same boat come the spring,” Skowfoe said.

If that happens, Gilboa Supervisor Tony Van Glad said, it’s not going to be accompanied by a federal disaster declaration that helps pay for damage restoration. “We have to fix it now before there is a disaster that isn’t declared a disaster.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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