Schoharie County officials last week received notice that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is suspending its permits for the county’s nearly $30-million stream bank reconstruction project.
The permits were issued last February for work on four stretches of streams that were badly damaged during Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in 2011. That work has been halted since last September, when the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service suspended its funding.
The suspensions from both agencies stem from concerns about work specifications.
The project, begun in 2012 and plagued since then by management problems and cost overruns, aims to reconstruct critical points on the four streams to increase their flood resiliency and prevent massive damage to surrounding infrastructure in the case of another major storm.
It’s the largest federally funded project of its kind in the country, according to federal officials.
The letter from DEC, dated Jan. 20, states that the permits are being suspended due to failure to comply with certain terms and conditions, including “numerous incidences where significant portions of the construction” have not been carried out according to plans approved by the agency, and “numerous incidences” of construction interfering with the passage of fish and other aquatic life.
County officials were not surprised by the suspensions, which they characterized Friday as an expected formality.
“We weren’t working on the project anyway,” said Public Works Commissioner Dan Crandell. “We’re in the process of getting the revised plans finalized and turned in to them right now.”
The county has been working with engineering firm AECOM, which is overseeing the project, and NRCS since last summer to make the corrections needed to lift the NRCS suspension. The federal agency had been providing 75 percent of construction costs, and New York state the other 25 percent.
With no federal funding coming in, the county has been unable to pay the contractors working on the project. They packed up and left in October, and are still owed millions.
The county Board of Supervisors voted in December to borrow $15 million more, on top of $8.5 million borrowed at the beginning of the project, to keep work moving. They will not release that funding, however, until a corrective action plan is approved by NRCS and, now, DEC.
“We’ve been working on identifying what the technical fixes are, and that’s essentially the same work that we’re doing to get the suspension lifted with NRCS,” said County Administrator Steve Wilson. “So it’s all the same thing.”
Crandell said he anticipates a few more months of work to finish the project, and hopes it will get started this spring, once the suspensions are lifted.
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Categories: News, Schenectady County