Firefighters in Esperance faced a dual challenge when the Schoharie Creek started slamming into the U.S. Route 20 bridge in August 2011.
Floodwater from Tropical Storm Irene blocked the eastbound passage out of town, and massive runoff descending from the hills blocked Route 20 to the west.
“They couldn’t get over the bridge, they couldn’t get down to Sloansville,” town Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III said.
The two fire stations serving Esperance — one on Church Street, the other in Central Bridge — are both in flood zones, which is among a list of issues Van Wormer is hoping the state’s NY Rising initiative may help fix.
A committee of community members is meeting twice monthly to devise a plan to use millions of dollars in state funding for projects under the NY Rising program.
Announced in July, the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program is making roughly $750 million in federal funding available to 102 communities impacted by tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Committees will be working until March to develop reconstruction plans.
Representatives from the town of Esperance and villages of Esperance, Middleburgh and Schoharie were formed into a Schoharie County NY Rising committee, each with a promise of $3 million to fund projects aimed at rebuilding in a way that can minimize the impact of disasters.
Van Wormer said the Town Hall on Charleston Street — situated alongside the Schoharie Creek — is another focus. He’s hoping a NY Rising project could lead to flood protection for the building, which was shut down for weeks after Irene.
Van Wormer said along with flood-proofing the Town Hall, he wants to explore an alternate meeting place for town officials, perhaps the town’s refuse and recycling transfer site on Route 30A in Sloansville.
If possible, Van Wormer said he wants to guide projects not only toward disaster resilience but also make improvements that could assist the town economically.
Residents in the village of Esperance are using well water and septic systems, both of which often are impacted by flooding.
At the same time, residents in the hamlet of Central Bridge are still paying for water many won’t use because of poor quality.
Both issues could be tied together with the goal of improving water and wastewater services.
“I’m hoping to make the town and the village more economically solvent. I want to see if we can’t increase the tax base,” Van Wormer said.
“It’s more than just trying to take care of some problems that happened from the flood, it’s to actually move the town forward so we might mitigate future problems and also see if we can’t help the town grow economically,” he said.
Middleburgh Mayor Matthew Avitabile is also considering the economic development potential of NY Rising. The health of village businesses relies not only bringing in customers but also on making sure everything doesn’t shut down because of heavy rain.
The village was hit by a locally heavy rain storm in early June and existing drainage infrastructure wasn’t able to handle it so Main Street turned into a raging torrent.
Avitabile said the village sent several recommendations to the NY Rising committee, including the goal of fixing drainage at a cost of more than $1 million.
He said floodwaters could be directed were a project to begin in the vicinity of Railroad Avenue, a site he considers the “biggest choke point” for raging floodwater.
“If that area isn’t addressed we’re going to be looking at further problems down the road,” Avitabile said.
Redirecting floodwater from Railroad Avenue and adding new catch basins to the Main Street area could go a long way in protecting the village and its economic health, Avitabile said.
The village is also recommending the NY Rising committee consider applying for a new pumper truck for the fire department and for about $500,000 for stream remediation work, the mayor said.
The Schoharie County NY Rising committee is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Schoharie Presbyterian Church Hall, 314 Main St. in Schoharie.