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Foss: Protecting the Stockade from future flooding

Foss: Protecting the Stockade from future flooding

Moving every home to protect it from floodwaters simply isn't feasible.
Foss: Protecting the Stockade from future flooding
Stephen Reichert and his dog Dogga return from a trip to 20 North St. in a kayak in 2011.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

I spent Labor Day weekend on the Jersey Shore. 

While driving around and walking on the beach, I couldn't help but notice how new everything looked -- how glossy the siding on the homes looked, how neat and tidy the yards and sidewalks looked. Even the boardwalk looked new.

Eventually it hit me: In 2012, the Jersey Shore suffered heavy damage in Hurricane Sandy. If things looked new, it's probably because they were new. 

Many homes had been rebuilt, and some had also been raised about 10 feet, with what was once the first floor now a carport or a garage. In an effort to minimize damage the next time it floods, these property owners had essentially moved their living spaces out of harm's way.  

The Jersey Shore will flood again, which is why it makes sense to consider how best to mitigate the impact of future flooding when rebuilding homes and businesses. 

The same is true of Schenectady's Stockade neighborhood, which is why it's good to hear that guidelines on how to mitigate flood damage there have been released and are available for comment. 

If I was feeling snarky, I might ask why it took so long to develop a plan for addressing the issue of flooding in the Stockade. 

After the devastating flooding caused by Hurricanes Irene and Lee six years ago, officials should have made assessing how best to protect the city's vulnerable riverside historic neighborhood a priority. 

But that didn't really happen — at least not until now.  

Instead, Stockade residents and property owners came up with their own solutions and fixes to a problem that will surely recur. 

For instance, on Tuesday the Washington Avenue home of Stockade resident Meredth Anker was raised off its foundation as crews prepared to move it to higher ground. Approval for this project did not come easy — the Schenectady Historic District Commission was concerned moving Anker's home might adversely effect the neighborhood. 

Moving every home in the Stockade to protect it from floodwaters simply isn't feasible. 

Nor is it necessary. 

As the city's draft guidelines make clear, there are other ways to minimize flood damage. 

Mechanical and electrical systems can be moved out of the basement to more elevated parts of the house. Infilling basements and incorporating flood vents is another options. In some cases, the first floor can be raised while leaving the rest of the home intact. 

These are good ideas — and it's good to see them included in the city's draft guidelines. 

What makes these guidelines so valuable is their careful consideration of how to preserve the Stockade's historic character while also protecting it from flooding. 

Nobody wants to see the Stockade turned into Long Island, with homes haphazardly raised on pilings and little consideration given to history or aesthetics.

But unless something changes — unless the vulnerabilities of each and every home in the Stockade are addressed — the neighborhood's long-term future is at risk. 

"If the buildings are not flood mitigated, they will become unlivable, and there will be no preservation if no one can live there," the report notes. "The goal is to preserve lives and social interactions, not just the historic condition of buildings." 

Indeed.

The Stockade is filled with beautiful buildings. 

But new realities require bold actions, and the flood-mitigation guidelines provide some much-needed direction.

As the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey and other hurricanes makes clear, leaving things as they are simply isn't an option.  

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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