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Schenectady's Stockade gets first look at possible flood mitigation solutions

Schenectady's Stockade gets first look at possible flood mitigation solutions

Each option would reshape the city's historic neighborhood
Schenectady's Stockade gets first look at possible flood mitigation solutions
Larry Wilson of Mesick, Cohen, Wilson and Barker Architects converses with Stockade resident and architect Frank Stracher.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — Stockade residents got their first look at what the future landscape of their neighborhood may look like.

While each of the options designed to mitigate flooding vary in complexity — from elevating homes and roadways, constructing walls to demolishing structures — all would will dramatically reshape the riverfront historic district.

Architects sailed through 10 possible options for the project designed to make the neighborhood more resilient against flooding from the Mohawk River, a problem that’s only intensified in the past two decades. 

Potential solutions fall into two broad categories: 

Safeguards to keep water out, including constructing flood walls, earthenware berms or deployable barriers.

And there are those that let the water come in: raising houses, elevating streets and, in examples the designers themselves admitted were extreme, a strategy of “managed retreat” in which the city would purchase and demolish 10 homes and move settlement inward to accommodate for raging flood waters in an expanded flood zone.

RIVER REMAINS THE SAME

Each of the architectural renderings were displayed alongside 3-D models and simulations revealing what would happen during flooding.

Solutions presented as part of the Stockade Flood Mitigation Project are limited to the 75 homes located within the floodplain.

Work to tame the river is beyond the scope of the project. But even if it wasn’t, stakeholders said bending the river to man’s control would not be enough by itself to prevent flooding.

Data collected over the past century reveals the area was flood-prone before the series of locks was constructed along the Mohawk River in 1913.

And while the role of the Vischer Ferry Dam in Rexford Falls has surfaced over the years as a potential culprit due to sentiment buildup and a lack of moving parts, engineers said removing the structure would only have a “marginal” impact in reducing water levels.

“We’re talking 5 inches once we get to the Stockade,” said Thomas Burgess, project architect with Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects.

NARROWING CHOICES

Attendees splintered off to learn more about each option at stations sprinkled around First Reformed Church on Wednesday.

Project leaders asked residents to select their top three choices before leaving, a measure that would help them winnow the pool of options.

“By the end of this, we’d like to narrow that down so we can move forward efficiently,” said Ian Law, principal at PLACE Alliance.

Law suggested attendees not get too stuck in the details — whether a wall would be 12 or 14-feet-tall, for instance — because each option is susceptible to change.

But officials repeatedly said any selection will alter the neighborhood’s core values, whether its historic character, riverfront views or proximity to open space. 

A patchwork approach of elevating some homes up to 12 feet while leaving others alone would have an indisputable impact on the neighborhood aesthetic, for instance, while relocating some homes and building new connector streets would reshape Ingersoll Avenue, North Ferry Street and Riverside Park entirely.

“Some (neighborhood values) are going to be impacted by this change,” Burgess said. “And you’ve got to decide and inform us as designers where can we compromise.”

Project leaders asked residents to identify those values and weigh them against long-term resilience at a workshop on Monday, the first in the three-part series, which concludes Thursday evening. 

“We had a lot of folks have a hard time picking what’s most important,” Law said.

But ranking in the top was long-term resilience, while views of the river came in at the bottom.

NEXT STEPS

The ongoing analysis has a $1.2 million price tag, and FEMA will allocate $7.5 million for solutions.

Stakeholders indicated additional funding sources are available. 

“We realize we may need to leverage different options as we discuss the options moving forward,” said Kristin Diotte, the city’s director of development. Her department is serving as lead agency on the project. 

Costs vary for each option, but were not part of the discussion.

“We’re not going to present costs tonight,” said Burgess, who noted more expensive proposals could actually be more readily fundable.

While the feedback from Monday's session has provided an early weathervane as to public sentiment, the sample size is still relatively small because homeowner survey response has been anemic.

Only 25 respondents returned surveys by the time the session began Wednesday evening, 16 from homeowners.

“We really need more feedback,” Burgess said. “It’s only representative of 30 percent or so. We hope it gets better.”

Surveys are available at https://www.stockaderesilience.com/. Hard copies are also available at City Hall.

The three-day workshop concludes Thursday with a public workshop: 7 p.m. at First Reformed Church's Covenant Hall: 8 North Church St. 

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