Volunteers were going to help 75-year-old Jean Mace refinish the gutted interior of her Main Street home until the recovery effort ran out of money last month.
Contractors working with the Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady were already working on a property next door, which Mace had rented to her family members, when they realized they wouldn’t have the bare minimum of funding needed to fix up the remaining 42 homes damaged after Tropical Storm Irene last summer. Her home was among them, meaning she’ll continue to live in a gutted house until she can earn enough money through her part-time job at Price Chopper to pay for some of the work.
“They said they ran out of money and there’s nothing they can do,” she said, standing on a front porch filled with items she was able to salvage from both properties. “Right now, I’m at a standstill.”
And so is work on many of the other homes in Rotterdam Junction. Despite the mild winter, the recovery effort that seemed to be steaming forward last fall has slowed considerably.
The worst-affected areas of the small hamlet are desolate. Isabella Street remains choked with debris from the flood, with many of the homes condemned and awaiting demolition.
Work on Lock Street continues, as indicated by the bright orange work permits posted prominently on front windows. Still, none of the homes appear even remotely habitable.
Construction is progressing on some homes along Main Street. Yet others appear abandoned by their owners —unsecured and open to the elements.
Wall of water
More than 100 houses were damaged by Tropical Storm Irene, which sent a wall of water from the Mohawk River cascading down Main Street. Some areas of the hamlet remained submerged for nearly a week after the flooding.
Hundreds of volunteers helped gut flood-ravaged homes in the weeks following Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. But the outpouring of support has since diminished, even though only a fraction of the homes have been repaired.
For Nathan Mandsager, the coordinator of the Flood Recovery Coalition, the slowed progress is a sad reflection of reality. He estimates his organization needs another $200,000 to finish restoring the remaining flood-damaged homes in Schenectady County, with the majority of the work being in Rotterdam Junction.
“That’s with [financial] help from homeowners too,” he said. “What we have left is not going to come close to finishing the work that needs to be done.”
Mandsager said funding poured into the Schenectady Foundation and other recovery effort sources last fall, when the flood damage was still making headlines. But more than a half-year later, these sources of funding have started to run dry.
“Those pools are quickly draining,” he said.
Meanwhile, the remaining residents of the hamlet continue to struggle with some of the same issues that have bedeviled them since water from the surging Mohawk receded. Scrap metal thieves and illegal dumpers still make rounds in the hamlet, some brazenly operating during daylight hours.
“They come in around daytime, scout it out and then come back at night,” Mace said. “My God we’re down. Don’t kick us too.”
Earlier this month, Dave Orologio returned to his condemned home on Isabella Street hoping to water a large vegetable garden he planted in his backyard once a soil test determined the land wasn’t made toxic by the flood. But instead of gardening, he ended up spending the afternoon filling out a police report for the water pipes that were stolen out of his basement.
“I go down to the cellar and the copper pipes are missing,” he recalled.
Orologio has already bought a new home and is now waiting to demolish the one he grew up in. He said many of the hamlet’s residents remain displaced and he’s not sure when they’ll return.
“There might be three or four families living there,” he said of the flood-damaged areas. “Everybody else is still rebuilding.”
Scrafford Lane resident Dan Hladik decided to rebuild, even though he’ll need to tear down the house that was under roughly 14 feet of water at the apex of the flooding. He’s been told that he’ll need to raise his home above the high-water mark, something that’s designated by a yellow piece of tape affixed halfway up a nearby utility pole.
Hladik said he’s got an idea for the unique building specifications presented by his lot and was hoping to demolish his ruined home this month — a contractor offered to do the job in exchange for scrap metal. But until he can get an asbestos survey — something the town never told him he needed until he was ready to start demolition — he’ll have to wait.
Like others in Rotterdam Junction, Hladik is starting to feel forgotten. With last year’s flooding becoming a distant memory, he feels as though the effort to help the hamlet recover is slowly grinding to a halt.
“That’s the way it feels,” he said. “Out of sight, out of mind.”