Schoharie County

Battling with nature again

Garry Bartholomew sucked on a cough lozenge while trudging around his sodden property Sunday afterno
Garry Bartholomew shovels mud from the base of his home in Middleburgh on Sunday.
Garry Bartholomew shovels mud from the base of his home in Middleburgh on Sunday.

Garry Bartholomew sucked on a cough lozenge while trudging around his sodden property Sunday afternoon.

Torrential rains and a jam of debris brought a small Schoharie Creek tributary over its banks to wash a foot high around his Middleburgh house Friday night. He’s been working in the rain and mud ever since — thus the cold and the lozenge.

“There’s the problem,” he said, pointing from his driveway across Straub Lane to a heap of deadfall and arm-sized logs.

The logs, he said, jammed up under the small Straub bridge and forced the rainwater up to his house in a matter of a few minutes. His wife, June, was in the house at the time, collecting birth certificates and dogs.

“I went in the house and everything was fine,” she said. “The next time I looked, the water was against the house.”

Luckily, the Bartholomews don’t have a basement, and the front door kept out most of the water. Two days after the water receded, most of the pressing work was done.

Early Saturday morning, Schoharie Area Long Term sent eight volunteers to shovel mud from the driveway. The American Red Cross dropped off mops and bleach.

Sunday afternoon, he shoveled muck from the base of his house while state Department of Transportation crews lifted piles of gravel and debris from downstream with a backhoe.

For many Straub Lane residents, the small tributary flood was much worse than tropical storms Irene and Lee, but most people in the area were actually better off.

The employees of Hubies Pizzeria had a front-row seat to the flash flooding, but didn’t end up shoveling mud.

“It was up to the door in five minutes,” said Andrew Hagadorn.

When three separate Schoharie Creek tributaries flooded in Middleburgh, he said, water poured down Main Street like a new river. The scene was dramatic but not all that dire, he said.

The pizzeria staff stacked towels and sandbags in front of the door and enjoyed the show. A kayaker paddled past.

“I don’t want to say people enjoyed it,” he said, “but there was some whooping and hollering.”

Sunday, he was just making pizza. There was little sign of flooding except for layers of Main Street mud drying and blowing away in dust clouds.

Just up the road in Schoharie, Richard Ball, farmer and owner of the Carrot Barn, laid out the difference between the floods of 2011 and this year’s variety. During Irene, sustained heavy rains flooded Schoharie Creek and “we lost our entire crop,” he said.

On Friday, 1.4 inches of rain fell on his fields in just under an hour. He had to reverse an irrigation pump to empty a small lake from his onion field, but very little beyond that.

no place to go

Within the villages though, water had no place to go.

“It was the little streams and ditches,” he said. “Most of the time a kid can jump across, but when there’s so much rain in so little time those streams can be a torrent in a few minutes.”

Though the damage was localized, flooding is starting to make an impression. In the small hours of Sunday morning, a big section of hillside turned to mud and slid down on Huntersland Road about a mile and a half outside the village of Middleburgh.

“We were just starting to get things cleaned up from Friday when this happened,” said Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond. “Ever since Irene, it’s like we’ve been fighting a never-ending battle.”

Desmond described the road as totally covered with rock and mud and trees. Huntersland Road will be closed for a few days at least.

“There are alternate routes,” he said, adding that no one was hurt in the incident.

The never-ending battle has taken it’s toll on Bartholomew. Cleaning up his yard, he plotted out the future. In the coming months, he said, he’ll have to take apart a piece of his house to clean out the crawl space. When the silt finally dries, he’ll drag the lawn with his tractor.

Once that’s done, he’s thinking of selling.

“This isn’t a freak thing anymore,” he said. “It’s going to happen again. It’s going to keep happening.”

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