Fewer than 20 property owners are holding up more than $20 million in post-disaster stream restoration that won’t likely get done before the spring rains.
Portions of the Little Schoharie Creek, the Line Creek, the Platter Kill and a tributary off Dave Brown Mountain Road remain in the same “unstable” condition Mother Nature left them in 28 months ago, and the National Resources Conservation Service is funding a $21 million project to restore them.
Contractors are set to re-establish proper channels stretching about 50,000 feet in length along the four waterways to reconnect the flood plains and prevent backups and more landslides.
Damage from the tributary below Dave Brown Mountain Road caused slope failures after the flooding, threatening the underground propane pipeline that runs beneath the stream.
The project was initially slated for completion by January, but now Schoharie County is pressing up against a Jan. 6 deadline to secure required approval from property owners whose land would be affected by the work.
The project requires access and work on property owned by 84 residents along the creeks. All but 17 have signed off on construction agreements.
Patricia Flores, project manager from the county’s engineering firm AECOM, asked supervisors last week to put out a call to those residents, or otherwise post their names in an effort to get their approval.
Without the agreements, the project can’t go forward unless Schoharie County initiates eminent domain action to claim the right to work on the land.
The project’s website at www.schohariestreams.com lists the property owners and warns of the risks of not going forward with the work.
“Without it, the stream will remain unstable, creating the potential for continued devastation, which may directly impact your property in a negative way,” the website warns.
The NRCS is currently finalizing reviews of the work plans, but permits may not be accessible in the absence of landowner agreements, Flores told supervisors.
“It will jeopardize being able to get the permits finalized,” Flores said.
Flores said the project team has made contact with many of the property owners — some live out of town — and there didn’t seem to be major resistance, so it’s unclear why the approvals haven’t been signed.
“We have not had any flat-out ‘No’s,’ ” Flores said.
Design work and changes to plans already pushed the work back, and a new completion date for construction has been moved to July 18, Flores said.
Some of the changes included about $140,000 worth of design changes property owners sought and another $200,000 in engineering for changes required by the NRCS after its initial review of plans.
Despite an estimated $400,000 overrun in engineering, the project’s cost once bids came in included a buffer. The NRCS estimated the work at $21 million, but the projected cost at this point is about $17 million.
Cobleskill Supervisor Thomas Murray said there was a hope the project could be finished before the winter thaw mixes with spring rains.
“We’re a long way off from breaking ground, really. I think high water will be more of a problem in April,” Murray said.
Despite the slowdown, Flores said officials and contractors can make the most of the winter.
Contractors can get “substantial” pre-construction surveying done over the winter and the pause gives local firms time to take advantage of the project’s needs, Flores said.
“There’s a lot that can be done,” he said.
The engineering firm is asking officials to consider whether any of their local businesses have supplies such as stone and other building materials. The project will also require hauling services, fuel and food.