Schenectady County

Rotterdam Junction flood victims to sue state, New York City

More than two-thirds of the Rotterdam Junction homeowners flooded out during Tropical Storm Irene fi

More than two-thirds of the Rotterdam Junction homeowners flooded out during Tropical Storm Irene filed separate legal notices against the state and New York City this week, claiming both could have done more to prevent damage to their residences.

About 60 homeowners — representing 88 Rotterdam Junction residents altogether — began a claim against the New York State Thruway Authority in its capacity of overseeing the state Canal Corporation. The same residents filed a notice of claim against New York City, which oversees its Department of Environmental Protection.

In both cases, the notices are precursors to an actual lawsuit being filed. Cory Dalmata, one of the attorneys representing the residents, said the notices were filed to allow the residents more time to gather information for a claim, since the statute of limitations for both suits expires Monday.

“But it is our intention to continue moving forward,” he said Friday.

The claim against the state Canal Corporation blames it for not properly maintaining the Erie Canal system in a way that could have mitigated the level of destruction in the Main Street neighborhood.

Dalmata, who works for the DeLorenzo law firm of Schenectady, said studies done in the aftermath of the flooding in June 2006 outlined measures that could prevent future flooding, but none of those were ever implemented before the late August storm struck.

“The state might be partly liable for this — the Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation — in terms of the maintenance of the canal and general upkeep of it,” he said.

The notice against New York City cites its oversight of the Gilboa Dam, which had a 200-foot-long temporary bulkhead fail on the day of the storm. The bulkhead was built to facilitate a $350 million rehabilitation project at the dam, but was breached by the floodwaters.

Dalmata said the breach caused a sudden rise in the level of the Schoharie Creek and eventually the Mohawk River. He said this sudden inundation contributed to the flood damage in Rotterdam Junction.

“When that breach happened, all of a sudden you have a giant amount of water that’s being released into the Schoharie Creek and subsequently into the Mohawk,” he said. “They’re liable for that.”

A spokesman for the state declined to comment on the claim. Calls to New York City officials were not returned Friday.

Floodwater from the badly swollen Mohawk River swept into Rotterdam Junction the day after Irene passed over the area. In some areas, the water rose several feet in moments; some residents reported seeing a wave of water washing down Main Street, which is Route 5S.

Low-lying areas of the hamlet remained inundated even after the river receded. Homes along Isabella Street and Scrafford Lane were left under roughly 8 feet of water and remained at least partially submerged for six days.

Damage figures compiled by the Rotterdam Public Works Department were bleak: 52 homes sustained damage up to the first floor, while 32 others were flooded up to the second floor. About a dozen homes will likely be demolished, their interiors infected with black mold.

Many people from the hamlet believe the flood could have been prevented. They’ve questioned why the lower level of the canal’s removable dams weren’t lifted and why a pair of construction barges near a CSX railroad bridge weren’t ordered to leave; some residents reported the barges created an obstruction that diverted the river into the hamlet.

The law firm began discussions with Rotterdam Junction homeowners two weeks after the flooding struck. The firm is under a retainer contingent on whether the claim is successful, said Paul DeLorenzo.

“We are retained, but it’s all contingency based,” he said.

Dalmata wasn’t sure when the actual lawsuit would be filed, since many residents are still tallying their damages. He said the law firm decided to take the case after interviewing a number of experts who suggested their were mistakes before the flood struck.

“The more we investigated it, the more we saw that there are viable actions here,” he said. “Someone has to pursue them on behalf of the residents.”

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