The work of Schoharie Area Long Term, the flood recovery group formed in the aftermath of tropical storms Irene and Lee, is more than half done.
Of the 1,958 Schoharie County properties damaged by devastating floodwaters, 63 percent have been rebuilt, a big jump from last year at this time, when only 22 percent were finished.
But significant needs remain, according to Sarah Goodrich, the executive director of SALT, a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources to flood recovery groups, civic organizations and agencies in the Schoharie Creek basin. The idea is to make the rebuilding process more efficient and collaborative.
“We continue to identify gaps and needs and look for ways to address them,” Goodrich said.
Goodrich and government officials representing hard-hit parts of Schoharie County spoke at a news conference marking the second anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, which hit Aug. 28, 2011.
They acknowledged the lingering pain caused by the flood and the work that remains to be done but stressed the good things that have already happened: neighbors coming together, the resilience of flood victims and the generosity of tireless volunteers.
In the days after the flood, “The future seemed uncertain,” Goodrich said. “We could see that recovery would be a long and tough fight. But even then we could see the seeds of goodness. I believed immediately that we would come back and come back better. I still believe that.”
“The emotional pain of this community remains very real,” said the Rev. Sherri Meyer-Veen, who serves as chair of the SALT board and a pastor at Schoharie Reformed Church. But there’s also been a lot of progress. “We recognize and celebrate the accomplishments to date,” she said.
In recent months, SALT volunteers have worked on 47 different projects, completing 28. Nineteen are still in progress, and six homes have been completely demolished, Goodrich said.
Steve Bulger, district director for U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, spoke at the news conference. He said that Gibson is committed to bringing more resources to the area to help with flood recovery and that he’s interested in figuring out how to mitigate damage from future floods.
“We know there is a long way to go,” Bulger said.
Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, agreed.
“What we’re talking about is a test of endurance,” he said. And it isn’t easy. The flood recovery “has tested the endurance of the community to work together,” he said. In the communities hit by flooding, “there’s tension … and the tension is all focused around how to get resources into people’s hands.”
Lopez said that it’s important for the area to develop “a vision of where we want to be.
“We’re still at risk,” he said. “Every time there’s a forecast of two to three inches of rain, people panic.” He warned that “the bulk of us are building as if nothing happened.”
Esperance town Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III said that his community is preparing for future flood events.
“In my town, we’re not just rebuilding,” Van Wormer said. “We’re buying out some of the homes. We’re asking people to elevate their homes. … We’re doing all we can to anticipate something like this again, or worse. We have to be proactive. We have to think outside of the box.”
The news conference was held at 147 Bridge St. in downtown Schoharie. Now an exposed foundation, the property was once the home of a local family. But after taking on 8 feet of water and sitting empty for more than a year, the house was demolished. It has since been acquired by the village of Schoharie’s Local Development Corp., which plans to put a modular home on the property. If all goes well, the house will be sold to a displaced family, according to Wanda King, a member of the Local Development Corp.’s board.
The project is a first for the Local Development Corp. But if it’s successful, the group will consider doing more, King said.
According to Goodrich, SALT has coordinated at least 35,000 volunteers, which adds up to a minimum of 210,000 volunteer hours. The pace of work has been fast, and the group has lent its expertise to other flood-damaged areas, such as Fort Plain. Even so, there are still about 724 properties in the Schoharie Creek basin that need assistance; 11 percent of those properties have major needs, according to SALT. These major needs include new water and septic systems and resolving complex mortgage and tax problems.
James Buzon, supervisor of the town of Middleburgh, said there is help for those who need it.
“Anybody who is still suffering, who is still out of their home, as long as SALT is here, there is hope,” he said.