Last Tuesday evening, my wife, our son Adam and I took a drive to Prattsville, Gilboa, Middleburgh and Schoharie. We had heard about all the flood damage from Hurricane Irene, and having friends and customers in that area, we decided to visit and see if we could be of help.
Upon driving across the bridge at the foot of the Gilboa Dam, we noticed the river was raging. The noise reminded me of Niagara! At the top of the hill, we saw water pouring over the dam and sections of it were missing.
As we came out of the hills and found the river on our right, there was a collective "Oh My God" and we came to a halt. Prattsville laid before us. We sat there for what seemed like 20 minutes. The reality of seeing such devastation is intense.
A neighborhood had been washed across the road and into the woods near the river. Cars, trucks, trailers and homes were simply swept aside. This tangled remains of possessions and memories littered the land like pockmarks of war.
Making our way into the center of town, many homes and businesses were simply gone. Vanished! Those that remained were fractured. Twisted hulks of homes, where people had lived and raised their children, were portraits of destruction.
On Route 23 or Main Street, folks were removing debris from the homes left standing. The odors of wet insulation, rotting food and garbage, spilled diesel fuel and gasoline filled the air. On the east side of town, in a large field, lay a hundred cars. We surmised they too were victims of Irene.
But the people were not without help! The National Guard, many church organizations, FEMA and power companies were there trying to provide safety, food and shelter. Local contractors such as Dave Beisler, Clark's Construction and Boyle's Excavating have their equipment and crews in the flooded towns. The cleanup will be daunting.
As we left the epicenter of destruction that was once the small farming town of Prattsville, Adam said, "The best thing they can do is bulldoze the town and start all over again." I'm afraid he's right.
Schoharie and Middleburgh also suffered the rage of Irene. Stores and homes were boarded up and police patrolled the area. Damaged belongings, wet insulation and ruined carpeting lined the streets when cleanup efforts began.
Reports said that Schoharie had been under 7 feet of water, and by the debris markings on buildings and homes that was no exaggeration. The beautiful and historic village of Schoharie will never be the same! The cost of cleanup and rebuilding is beyond a dollar figure. The toll on people and communities will be immense.
Between the two villages were huge fields. Hundreds of acres of corn, which stood 10 to 12 feet tall, are now gone! In some sections, tall grass was wrapped around and still hanging from the power lines. The water was that deep!
For every bad, there is a worse. Fleischmanns and Margaretville may be just that. God help them all.
In just the last five years, we have seen this catastrophic damage at least twice. Walton, Sidney and Unadilla were devastated in 2006, and now Prattsville, Margaretville, Schoharie and Middleburgh in 2011.
Naturally, all of our cities and towns are near a source of water, but to do any maintenance on a river or creek takes an act of Congress. It is insane to let water, the most powerful force on Earth, take its own course unimpeded. How can we trust mindless Mother Nature with such a weapon?
Surely, all flooding cannot be avoided, but it can be minimized. Farmers should be allowed to clear their streams and keep them clean.
While towns and counties, working with the state, should clean the rivers and larger creeks of debris, silt, fallen trees and vegetation.
This mindset of "Mother Nature put it there and she can remove it" is senseless, impractical and dangerous. It is time to put the lives and needs of our people ahead of those of fish, river weeds and salamanders.
Drive through Prattsville and see the anguish in her people's eyes. Then ask yourself, "How many times are we going to let this happen?"
A side note:
Much lip-service is paid to the Constitution, but explanations of the Constitution as the Founders understood it, are rare. The Friends of the Constitution is presenting the first of a series of programs to educate the public. The talks will be neither Republican nor Democrat, but non-partisan explanations of points of view on the Constitution.
The speakers for Sunday at 1 p.m. will be James Sacco, a lawyer from Binghamton, speaking on "The Miracle of the American Constitution," and Ray Chaney, minister, businessman and radio talk show host, speaking on the "Abuses of the Constitution." The program will be held at the Covered Bridge Gardens, 1532 Covered Bridge Road, Unadilla.
A question-and-answer period will follow the speeches. For further information, please call 988-7470 or 433-2073.
Chuck Pinkey is the owner of River Valley New Holland Inc. in Otego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.