SCHENECTADY — People have lived in the city’s Stockade neighborhood since the 1600s, with the Mohawk River serving as a key character.
Now residents are being forced to seriously evaluate their relationship with their friend, companion, and at times, tormentor.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the First Reformed Church on Monday for the first in a three-part series of workshops this week to learn more about the Stockade Flood Mitigation Project, the multi-phase effort designed to settle upon a long-term solution to flooding in the historic neighborhood.
NO EASY ANSWERS
The main takeaways from the engineers, scientists, architects and planners who briefed the crowd, about half of whom identified themselves as Stockade property owners through a show of hands: Bending the river to man’s control — whether removing dams or culling ice jams — will not be enough by themselves to prevent flooding.
“Anything we do to Lock 7 — including getting rid of it — is not going to stop flooding from happening in the Stockade,” said James Woidt, senior project engineer at Shumaker Consulting Engineering & Land Surveying.
The Vischer Ferry Dam in Rexford Falls has frequently been targeted by residents and engineers alike as a potential culprit in flooding.
Experts on Monday pointed at a fresh set of data reviewing floods over the past century, including many incidents before the series of locks was constructed in 1913.
Other events, like Tropical Storm Irene also led to significant flooding.
“There’s nothing we’re going to do in the river that’s going to protect the Stockade from flooding,” said Ian Law, principal at PLACE Alliance.
About 65 homes are located in the 100-year floodplain, which is bounded by Front Street, the railroad and Cucumber Alley.
A half-dozen structures have recently been added to the floodplain after consultants reviewed data as part of the project and slightly revised the base flood elevation numbers.
FEMA will ultimately release $7.5 million for the construction of new infrastructure.
All options are on the table, from elevating homes, constructing earthen berms or building a wall around flood-prone areas.
“We’re going to be looking at all these options,” Law said.
More details will be discussed on Wednesday.
Margaret Irwin, project manager with River Street Planning & Development, led attendees in a series of exercises designed to identify and target which community characteristics are important to them.
Attendees discussed the importance of riverfront greenways, preservation of historic structures and how any physical changes may affect the fabric of the community — including a wall that may obscure riverfront views.
Several residents acknowledged the viewpoints of the river are critical parts of their lives, and what drew them to the neighborhood to begin with.
“But it’s secondary to me not getting three feet of dirty water in my living room,” said one resident.
Others wistfully recalled bygone scenes of tugboats chugging by.
Resident David Giaccone likened public parks to an important communal backyard, which he said is important because so many residents lack private amenities.
Community consensus is key, said Schenectady Director of Development Kristin Diotte.
The city cannot seize homes through eminent domain and elevate them.
But if some homeowners were to opt for elevating their residences, residents can control the aesthetics of the neighborhood by voluntarily acting in solidarity to pursue that option, leading to a more uniform look.
Irwin noted the Dutch who settled in the area in the 1600s used the best materials they had at the time.
Would residents be “faking history” if they were to opt to raise their homes?
“You’re no less stewards to the area than they were,” Irwin said.
On Wednesday potential wall prototypes and other options will be discussed.
“They all have things that might be good, and they all have things that just aren’t,” Law said of potential scenarios.
Public input and feedback from property owners within the Stockade Historic District continues to be paramount.
Surveys were issued to property owners earlier this month, and those involved have said this information is valued as they move forward on coalescing around potential solutions.
Surveys are available at https://www.stockaderesilience.com/. Hard copies are also available at City Hall.