Officials in Schoharie County aren’t taking any chances with another potentially disastrous storm on the horizon.
State and local officials gathered in the village Friday to outline actions being taken to prepare for a response in the event Hurricane Sandy decides to hover over the Northeast like Tropical Storm Irene did last year.
“We’re here today not to say the sky is falling,” said Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie.
“But I’d rather apologize up front for working in partnership with our colleagues … to protect life and property rather than apologize after the fact that we haven’t done enough,” he said.
Drawdown of water from reservoirs on the Schoharie Creek and along the Mohawk River are under way to accommodate any flood surge.
Friday, Schoharie County Emergency Management Director Kevin Neary said officials were working to get generators available for the Middleburgh and Jefferson school buildings for use as emergency shelters.
In 2011, many of the pre-designated emergency shelters had to be evacuated when they were flooded. This time, more shelters are designated, among them many not touched by last year’s floods, so there will be a fallback position if the situation deteriorates.
All schools in the county except for Gilboa-Conesville are being prepped in the event they are needed as shelters. Neary said the Conesville Firehouse, at 1202 state Route 990V, will serve as an emergency shelter for those in the Gilboa-Conesville school area.
A series of 20 warning sirens that line the Schoharie Valley from the Gilboa Dam to Esperance were reported operational. The sirens, credited as lifesavers when flooding inundated the valley last year, are meant to be used in the event the Gilboa Dam’s integrity is compromised or if sensors on the dam malfunction, Neary said.
The siren system also could be activated in the event major flooding is imminent, he said. But if the storm turns out to be disastrous, he said, residents should already be out of the valley.
“People need to start planning today,” Neary said.
Lopez echoed Neary’s comments, recounting that many people waited to leave until the sirens went off last year — only to find many escape routes were blocked by felled trees, power lines and water.
“It was almost possible to get out,” Lopez said.
Officials reported an informational phone number — 211 — is operational and should be used by residents looking for information about the storm, shelters and other details.
Neary said 911 should be used only for a direct emergency.
Greene County Legislator James Hitchcock — who represents Prattsville, which was torn apart by the Schoharie Creek in August 2011 — said there are three empty reservoirs and dams, freshly repaired after destruction from Tropical Storm Irene, able to absorb some rainfall.
“I sense there is a better state of readiness now,” Hitchcock said.
Much of the floodwater that devastated the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys last year traveled from the Catskills, into Prattsville then north along the Schoharie Creek where the 17.6 billion-gallon Schoharie Reservoir, which is held back by the Gilboa Dam.
It then runs downstream into the lower reservoir of the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage hydroelectric project, operated by the New York Power Authority, before rushing through the valley and into the Mohawk River at Fort Hunter.
From there, the water has to negotiate several dams that line the Erie Canal/Mohawk River.
To make room for the potential of heavy rain and flooding, water levels all along that route are being lowered.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection announced Friday that the agency is lowering the Schoharie, Neversink, Ashokan and Rondout reservoirs to provide extra capacity.
The DEP activated its Emergency Operations Center in Eastview and the city’s satellite communications network was tested, DEP Commissioner Paul Rush said.
That water will travel south, not into the Mohawk Valley, as the DEP opens up the tunnel that brings water from the Schoharie Reservoir down to New York City.
Just downstream of the Gilboa Dam, Lopez said the New York Power Authority’s lower reservoir was drained as low as it goes and NYPA was prepared to pump water to its upper reservoir if necessary.
In prior flood events, the state’s canal system has been eyed as restricting the flow of water through the Mohawk Valley because the movable dams that create reservoirs along the Mohawk River for navigation often clog with debris, backing up the flow and causing major damage around the dams themselves.
The Canal Corp. on Thursday issued a notice to mariners through the TransAlert system notifying them the canal system was being lowered to levels just high enough for navigation, and lower than necessary for navigation the entire length of through Montgomery County.
Drawdown continued Friday and the Canal Corp. issued another notice informing boaters the Erie Canal from Lock E-8 in Glenville to Lock E-17 in Little Falls will be shut down at 7 a.m. today.
“Water levels in this section will begin to be lowered, at that time, to approximately 3–5 feet below minimum navigation levels. Any vessels remaining in this section which are able to navigate at reduced water levels, will be allowed to transit to safe harbor. Additional closures are possible depending on the storm track,” the notice states.
Adding more help is the fact that NYPA is also lowering the level of the Hinckley Reservoir, which contributes to the levels of the Mohawk River from the west, according to the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo in a release said the Hudson River–Black River Regulating District is preparing to store rainfall from the Adirondacks as well.
Despite the state of readiness, people in Schoharie County are anxious, and some are scared.
County Planning Director Alicia Terry said some people felt sick Thursday after just hearing about the potential for another massive rainfall event.
Jim Cooke, co-owner of Village Hardware — established on Main Street in Schoharie after flood restoration — said he planned to wait and see.
He was optimistic and wasn’t expecting another disaster, he said Friday, but he intends to monitor the situation and in the worst case he’ll put important things up on higher shelves.