Eliminating a gap in the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail west of Rotterdam Junction could help reduce the periodic flooding that plagues the hamlet.
Plans for building a tunnel to carry the bike path beneath the tracks leading to Pan Am Railways’ freight yard by Scrafford Lane have been mulled for more than a decade, but have never come to fruition because of a lack of funding. Now the project is a high priority among those under consideration for a pot of $3 million due the county through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program.
“That’s a real high priority,” said Peter Comenzo, Rotterdam’s senior planner, who is working with the committee to decide which projects to fund with the money. “I think there’s a lot of support for getting that gap closed.”
The support comes because creating the large opening beneath the tracks would prevent stormwater from collecting in the old Erie Canal basin north of the tracks. The tracks act as a dam that prevents water from flowing in its natural gradient toward the defunct Bonded Concrete gravel mine to the east and contributes to flooding that has bedeviled the hamlet for years.
Creating a culvert to carry the bike path beneath the tracks would be part of a larger plan to help water drain from the old canal basin throughout Rotterdam Junction. Plans are in the works to unclog or replace the many blocked culverts along the old canal channel so that it can properly carry runoff to the Mohawk River.
County officials are poised to receive $512,000 in addition to the New York Rising funds as part of a Hurricane Irene-Tropical Storm Lee Flood Mitigation grant through the Empire State Development Corp. About $212,000 of that is slated to “re-establish about 800 feet of meandering channel” of the old canal by removing debris and sediment that has accumulated in the old canal, according to documents associated with the project.
State officials conducted a public hearing this week on the smaller grant, something that is little more than a formality before the funds are approved. The funding would go toward paying the county’s match of the estimated $2.4 million project.
“Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee had a devastating effect on many areas of Schenectady County with problems that continue to this day,” said Tony Jasenski, the Legislature’s chairman, who spoke at the hearing. “Given the increased frequency of these extreme weather events, I believe it is imperative that New York state and Empire State Development give strong consideration to funding the completion of all of the projects included in our proposal.”
Drainage problems associated with the old canal have frustrated residents for years. It acts as a catch basin for a variety of runoff, including the slope south toward the Plotterkill Preserve, the state Thruway and the CSX train track.
Weather events caused flooding in both 2008 and 2009. Then the late-summer storms of 2011 delivered a knockout punch to the hamlet, leaving an entire neighborhood submerged in floodwater for nearly a week.
Solutions for flooding in the area haven’t come easily, since the old canal is owned by many different entities, both public and private. But the devastation caused by Irene and Lee has helped rally support to finally address the problem that has caused millions of dollars worth of property damage over the years.
County officials have met with Pan Am and have learned of an “as-of-right easement” that allows the state access to areas by the tracks where work is proposed, provided the plans are first approved by the railroad. Initial plans for the tunnel beneath the tracks would call for the project to be completed in two stages; an alternative would be to push the culvert beneath both tracks simultaneously by horizontal jacking.
The culvert would allow the bike path to connect with rights-of-way acquired by the state along the abandoned CSX and New York Central railroad tracks between Rotterdam Junction and Amsterdam in neighboring Montgomery County. Opening unfettered access beneath the tracks would also help complete a crucial connection that is part of a 524-mile continuous trail mapped out along New York’s historic canal system.
More importantly, the work would allow residents still living in the flood-prone areas of Rotterdam Junction to rest a little easier during heavy storms. Dan Hladik has spent years alerting various agencies of the problems that exist behind his recently rebuilt Scrafford Lane home, and now he’s optimistic that the mitigation plans will help end the cycle of repairing flood damage on his property.
“It needs to be done,” he said.