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Road crews grappling with repairs in storm aftermath

Road crews grappling with repairs in storm aftermath

In Adirondack backcountry, long-term damage still unknown
Road crews grappling with repairs in storm aftermath
Repairs are being made to Sand Creek Road in the town of Day, which was damaged in last week's storm.
Photographer: Erica Miller

CAPITAL REGION -- The town of Wells, about 15 miles north of Northville in Fulton County, was among the hardest hit in Thursday's major storm. On Friday, shortly before noon, the town posted a foreboding message on Facebook: “Emergency services states that there is no route in or out of Wells as of noon.

So Friday was a busy day for the Lakeside General Store in Wells.

“We were extremely busy,” Kathy Hays, owner of the general store, said of patrons stocking up on food, water and other supplies. “It was like a summer weekend.”

Parts of the town flooded Thursday night and Friday morning as a branch of the Sacandaga River overflowed its banks and washed away parts of major roads in the area. Some of the roads were closed or reduced to one direction. Hays said the storm was unlike anything she had experienced.

“It's something I think most people have never seen in Wells,” Hays said. “And it's gonna take time because sections of roads are gone, and it's not just in one place, all over there's disruption.

Damage from the storm was widespread across a large swath of upstate New York, with a formal emergency declaration covering 11 counties from Erie County to Warren County. Cleanup and repairs continued Monday as officials started to assess the full extent of the damage to roads, and in the Adirondacks the full extent of damage in the backcountry, where fallen trees block trails and flooded streams destroyed key bridge crossings.

Saratoga County Public Works Commissioner Keith Manz said county and state crews were focused Monday on repairing two major sections of road damage in the northern part of the county: a section of Lake Desolation Road northwest of Middle Grove, where the road effectively washed out; and a bridge on County Route 4 near the intersection with Hadley Hill Road.

“That was a total loss, that bridge,” Manz said. “It's not like you just plop this new bridge in in a week.”

Manz' deputy was meeting with a contractor and consultant at the site to discuss temporary repairs to the bridge, which Manz said could take the next month or two. He expected the Lake Desolation Road repairs to take about a week.

Manz said crews were dispatched to clear roads of downed trees and power lines early Friday morning and they worked into the weekend. He said he was tracking man hours and equipment use in case the repairs eventually qualified for reimbursement under a federal emergency declaration.

In the town of Day in Saratoga County, Lehman Allen Jr., deputy highway superintendent, said the town's four road trucks were being used to haul gravel fill back and forth to roads in need of repair. In some places where the roads had been washed out by flooding, the crews were working to fill in holes as deep as seven or eight feet, he said.

This time of year those road crews are usually working to set up the trucks with snow plows in preparation for winter. With snow in the forecast later this week, Allen said the town road crews will have to improvise a solution.

“It's gonna create a problem,” Allen said of managing road repairs while preparing for the snow forecast. “I think about all the towns in our area are in the same boat.”

Beware in the backcountry

Reports of trips into the Adirondack backcountry posted on various hiking forums and Facebook groups suggest damage to trails and stream crossings could be significant, but it's too early to know just how significant.

A state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson said the agency's Friday advisory recommending people avoid the Adirondack backcountry was still in effect. The DEC had warned the public that areas in the backcountry were likely “unstable and dangerous to visitors.”

“DEC's backcountry advisory remains in effect as the agency continues to evaluate damages that could affect the safety of trails,” according to the spokesperson's statement. DEC crews were in the field Monday assessing damage, and the spokesperson said to expect an update soon.

Ron Konowitz, a longtime Adirondack mountaineer and skier living in Keene Valley, said he had already heard reports of major tree blowdowns on trails and bridges lost in the storm.

He recommended hikers who do brave the backcountry in the coming days plan an out-and-back hike instead of a large loop, so they know what they are getting into for the second half of their hike instead of running into an unpassable section of trail as they near the end of a loop.

“The problem is if you don't do an out-and-back, you don't know what the tail end of your hike will be,” he said.

He also warned of worsening conditions with the earlier sunset limiting day hiking and temperatures headed well below freezing in the coming days. Hikers planning to head into the Adirondack backcountry should be prepared for icy and snowy conditions, especially at higher altitudes.

Konowitz, who worked in the storm as a volunteer firefighter in the area, said he thinks the long rock slides on many of the Adirondack High Peaks caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011 may have accelerated the flooding in the valleys below the mountains. He said the rivers seemed to flood at a faster rate than during previous major storms.

“It's kind of like a big rain gutter,” he said of the heavy rains cascading down the slides to the streams and rivers below. “Those slides are granite, so no water penetrates into the ground.”

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said he didn't yet have any first-hand information about the extent of the backcountry damage but that he expected the trails would be in need of work. He said it could take well into next hiking season before the trail repairs were completed.

“Certainly, you can imagine there are many hikers' bridges that are in difficult shape,” he said.

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