Off the Northway: A little stream fix, a much bigger need

Tropical storms Irene and Lee did a number throughout the Adirondack High Peaks, but little damage h

Tropical storms Irene and Lee did a number throughout the Adirondack High Peaks, but little damage has gotten as much attention as the man-made “clean-up” of Johns Brook and the Ausable River in Keene Valley.

With state permit requirements suspended after the storms ripped away stream banks in late August and early September, crews scooped away debris and lined nearly a mile of Johns Brook with heavy stone.

People who know the environment didn’t like the new look.

“The work being done — well-intended as it might be — is turning several river and stream sections into storm water dikes, the likes of which you might find in urbanized Los Angeles,” Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild said at the time.

There was letter of protest to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the message got through. Earlier this month, state Department of Transportation crews did more work around bridge abutments on Route 73, helped by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The new work will protect the bridges against spring flooding, while restoring some fish habitat, according to the DEC.

The state always recognized a more long-term solution would be needed following the emergency work, said DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen.

“We went in immediately after the flooding and were removing critical debris, boulders and limbs from the brook,” she said. “They were a threat to our bridges.”

But the recent work around state bridge abutments is all that’s currently planned, she said. That may or may not be fine, depending on who’s got your ear.

Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said the Ausable and Johns Brook will come back to a more natural condition on their own, given time.

“You can already see new channels starting to form,” he said. “The next high water, more rocks will wash down. It will heal itself. The fish will come back.”

If there are further stream restorations in the works, Ferebee said he doesn’t know about them.

With a typical Adirondacker’s skepticism about the Big Brothers in Albany and Ray Brook, he said, “If they give us a permit and some money, we’ll do whatever they want.”

The initial clean-up was done without a stream-restoration plan, said Carol Treadwell, a fisheries scientist who was executive director of the Ausable River Association at the time. That work wasn’t good for the trout, which like pools and ripples in the streambed, she said.

But Treadwell acknowledged further restorations will take money — something that’s in short supply these days, whether for weirs in trout streams or winter home heating oil for the shivering.

No specific follow-ups are in the works, and it’s now too icy to work, said DEC spokesman David Winchell, but future work isn’t ruled out, either.

“We will continue to work with various state and municipal agencies and non-government organizations to identify and design projects that can be undertaken in the spring,” he said Thursday.

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