Ed Kreiley shouldered a life jacket before striding out over rising Otsquago Creek waters on the severed steel half of the flood-ruined Canalway Trail bridge.
Kreily is a CP Ward project foreman. He and his team were charged with removing the 380-ton former rail bridge after June 28 floodwaters shifted it from its abutments. In the aftermath of flash flooding that destroyed several Fort Plain homes and left many more damaged, officials worried the teetering bridge could fall, dam up the creek and reflood the village.
Tuesday morning, Kreily and his five-man crew rushed to get the remnants out of the creek, slipping in rubber boots up and down eroded mud banks.
“I want to get this thing out in the next four hours,” he said.
Only the western vertical half of the bridge remained, lying on its side just feet above the water. The job was mostly complete — and just in the nick of time, according to Kreiley.
The National Weather Service in Albany issued a flood advisory for the region in the small hours of Tuesday morning as rains drenched the Otsquago Creek watershed.
When the CP Ward crew arrived for their 20th straight day of work Tuesday morning, water ran 3 feet higher than the night before. One side of the lowered bridge half was in the current.
“It’s risen 4 more inches in the time we’ve been talking,” he said at approximately 8:30 a.m.
In spitting rain, workman Chris Caldwell dragged his cutting torch out onto the bridge and set to work on a final cut, blasting sparks through inches of steel.
By the end of the day, Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Piccola said the bridge was safely out of the water, bringing the weekslong threat of further flooding to an end.
“At first we just wanted to get a crane down there and pull the thing out,” he said, “but that’s an old rail bridge. We couldn’t get a big enough crane.”
CP Ward had to bring in its largest crane, a 35-ton Grove, and workers with cutting torches. They lowered it from its ruined abutments to a stable position just above the water and started cutting the thing up.
The last chunks of bridge were lifted away by the crane as water rushed by, but there’s plenty more to do.
Kreiley said his crew will be around for a few more days cleaning up the site, and there are plenty more sites besides.
“We’ve got 10 contractors at 50 sites across four counties right now,” Piccola said, “just from this flood.”
Just upstream from the Canalway bridge site, crews are working to fix the Route 80 bridge. Floodwaters eroded that structure’s foundations as well, but Piccola said it was anchored to bedrock with 60-foot pilings.
“That’s why it’s still standing,” he said, “and the old rail bridge is not.”
Fort Plain businesses could get an extra $50,000 in flood recovery funding thanks to a National Grid grant program announced Tuesday.
“We don’t want to just leave once we get the power back on,” said National Grid Regional Director Bill Flaherty, “We want to help the community recover.”
At a news conference held at the Herkimer Fire Department, National Grid officials said the grant program would supply businesses from Fort Plain to Oneida with a total of $2 million in funding.
Flaherty said much of the damage occurred west of Montgomery County, “but my own experience is in Fort Plain, and those businesses were hit hard.”
By next week, he said, teams of National Grid representatives will be dropping off applications at all the businesses in Fort Plain.
Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose has said 47 Fort Plain businesses were affected by flooding.
Flaherty said many are no-brainers for the grant.
Save-a-Lot, he said, will likely receive funding if the owner fills out an application. The Family Dollar is another likely candidate.
“There are a lot of mom-and-pop businesses that will probably qualify as well,” he said. “Not everyone needs the whole $50,000. Most of the businesses that apply will probably qualify for something. We want to spend the whole $2 million.”
Each application must be endorsed by local officials and verified by National Grid adjusters.
He couldn’t comment on when exactly grant money might actually arrive for businesses, but said similar efforts in Schoharie County after tropical storms Irene and Lee were enacted in just a few weeks.
The program will reimburse eligible businesses for electrical and gas repairs, construction materials and affixed machinery. Agribusinesses, meanwhile, qualify for grant money for ruined tractors and barns.
“People should save their receipts,” he said.
In addition to state funding and private grant opportunities, county residents and nonprofits are working to raise money for flood recovery.
The Mohawk Valley Collective, an organization of area nonprofits, will be holding a Fort Plain recovery fundraiser on Aug. 10.
“Standing Strong: A River through Time” will be a day of geocaching, historic home tours and live music at the West Hill School in Canajoharie and Unity Hall in Fort Plain.
There will also be a barbecue, an antique/craft fair and a raffle with $1,500 in prizes.
The collective already had been planning the event before flash flooding ripped through Fort Plain.
Pre-disaster it was called “The Mohawk Valley: A River through Time” and was designed to showcase the area through a series of open houses in Fort Plain, Canajoharie and neighboring communities.
Following the flood, the focus immediately shifted.
Maps and information are available at the new tourist information center and the Arkell Museum in downtown Canajoharie, as well as Haslett Park and Unity Hall in Fort Plain. The event begins 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10.
For information, visit www.mohawkvalleycollective.com.