Pieces of creekside homes washed away during tropical storms Irene and Lee are just one type of debris Montgomery County officials expect to find along the Schoharie Creek during a survey likely to be completed before winter.
Earlier this week, a Montgomery County task force recommended the Board of Supervisors use a $150,000 Empire State Development grant to hire international engineering company AECOM to perform a debris assessment of the creek.
“We don’t know what’s still there,” said Public Works Commissioner Paul Clayburn, “If there are 1,000 trees uprooted by last year’s floods, we need to know.”
Some efforts have been made to clean up the 14-mile stretch of the Schoharie Creek between the county line and the Mohawk River, specifically at the Fort Hunter boat launch and under bridges in Burtonsville. However, Clayburn said nothing comprehensive has been done.
He said the main concern is that dead trees and chunks of houses left along the creek by Irene could by picked up by the next heavy rain and washed into the Mohawk River, clogging Lock 12 at Fort Hunter and flooding the whole area.
He and the rest of the task force — Palatine town Supervisor Brian Sweet, Florida town Supervisor William Strevy and county Planner Doug Greene — believe knowing exactly where and how much debris there is along the creek could lead to more grants and cleanup efforts next year to prevent further flooding.
AECOM was chosen from a group of 11 companies interested in the project. Engineering services director Roger Laime said a half-dozen surveyors from his company will spend more than a month along the creek with GPS mapping devices and laser rangefinders.
They will map debris along the shore and in the visible shallows by category, then make a recommendation to the county about what, if any, cleanup action should be taken.
“But it’s all weather dependent,” he said, “so we want to get in there before winter.”
The company also specializes in stream restoration design. Laime said creeks often permanently change course during a flood, making the same creek more likely to flood in the future. So, along with the debris maps, AECOM water-flow engineers will provide the county with suggestions on how the creek’s path could be changed to prevent future floods.
According to Clayburn, though, getting the creek surveyed is only the first step in the process and does not necessarily mean the creek will be dredged or tampered with in any way.
“In an ideal world, they won’t find anything, and we can all go on our merry way,” he said, “but somehow I don’t think that will be the case.”
Officially contracting with AECOM will require approval from the Finance Committee and the full Board of Supervisors. The Finance Committee meets Tuesday and the project could be under way shortly after the full board meets Nov. 27.
“I don’t foresee any problems with it passing,” Clayburn said.