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March 13, 2013

Otsego plan aims to tame nature

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — Flooding is the most costly natural hazard facing Otsego County, according to a 508-page draft report released this week that outlines hundreds of local ideas to soften its effects.

The draft of the All Hazards Mitigation Plan was released Monday by the Planning Department. It eventually will be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and — if approved by FEMA and all of the participating towns — will form the basis for seeking funds for projects intended to blunt nature’s fury.

“It’s required by FEMA in order to be eligible for hazard-mitigation grants,” Erik Scrivener of the county Planning Department said.

The plan identifies 10 hazards thought to be the most likely to strike the county: extreme temperatures, hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, earthquakes, landslides, droughts, floods, wildfires and dam failures.

But flooding is the greatest threat, it says, with annualized losses of nearly $2 million. The next highest threat — at an annualized cost of about $300,000 — comes from winter storms, it says.

The county, municipalities and stakeholders came up with hundreds of proposals to address those hazards, most of them involving flooding, that occupy 266 pages of the draft plan.

The city of Oneonta, for example, suggests a “program for clearing debris from bridges, drains, culverts.”

It, like many of the towns and villages, also wants to identify high-ground sites at which displaced residents can be housed for the short and long terms in the event of a flood.

But not all of the proposals are so obvious. The county and the town of Maryland, for example, want to map and monitor beaver dams because they can contribute to flooding.

“In the plan, we’ve identified mitigation actions,” Scrivener said. “Those are for every municipality. And we also have stakeholders in this plan, and they’ve identified actions at their local levels to prevent further damage.”

The stakeholders include the Milford, Morris and Franklin (Otego) school districts — although every district was invited to participate, Scrivener said — Hartwick College, Bassett Hospital and the Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District.

In addition, county agencies, such as the Office of Emergency Services and the Highway Department, had input, he said.

The county hired H20 Partners Inc., a Texas company with an office in Owego and extensive experience in creating hazard-mitigation plans, to assist in preparing the new blueprint. Most of the cost has been borne by FEMA, Scrivener said, with the rest being covered by the in-kind contribution of time by the municipalities.

Hazard-mitigation plans are produced at five-year intervals, and this is the second one for Otsego County.

Scrivener said the main difference between this and the 2008 report is that the new plan’s focus has shifted to the local level.

“The 2008 plan was a countywide plan,” he said. “The municipalities were able to apply for mitigation actions at that point, but now it has gone into municipal analysis at the local level. They’ve identified their own projects and actions.”

In addition, the current plan limits itself to natural hazards with the exception of dam failures. The 2008 plan also considered events like explosions and chemical spills, but planning for those has now been left to emergency agencies.

Also, the five towns that did not participate in creating the 2008 report opted into the planning this time. That means every municipality in the county is represented.

“We had a series of meetings and webinars, beginning with our project kickoff meeting July 17,” Scrivener said.

The planners sought public input, but one meeting failed to attract a single member of the public, the report said.

“We did have some some attendees at the webinar,” Scrivener said. “We received some public comments through our survey, so there was some public involvement associated with the plan. And now it’s open for public comment.”

The draft plan can be read at www.otsegocounty.com/depts/pln/HMGP Update.htm. The deadling for comments is March 22. They can be submitted to Cathy Meek, senior hazard mitigation associate at H2O Partners, at cathy@h2opartnersusa.com or (888) 328-4151, ext. 2.