Officials assess damage from recent floods

Teresa WinchesterFrom left, Gilbertsville Village Improvement Society President Greg Watson, Mayor Mark Muller, consulting engineer Jack Dodson, state Sen. Peter Oberacker and Assemblyman Joseph Angelino meet beside Dunderberg Creek to assess damage caused by flooding in Gilbertsville earlier this month.

A group of interested parties met on Monday on the banks of Dunderberg Creek in Gilbertsville to discuss damage from recent flooding and share information about what can be done in response.

Officials taking part included state Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus; state Assemblyman Joseph Angelino, R-Norwich; Gilbertsville Mayor Mark Muller; Gilbertsville Trustee Glenn Foster, Butternuts Town Supervisor Bruce Giada; Butternuts Town Clerk Rebecca Huff and Morris Mayor Michael Newell. They were joined by Greg Watson, president of the Gilbertsville Improvement Society; Dick Gilbert of the Gilbertsville Public Works department and Oberacker's communications director, Jeff Bishop.

While officials acknowledged that repair costs will exceed the ability of local governments or property owners to pay, they said they could not promise immediate relief.

“The threshold for relief monies is $29 million for FEMA and $64 million for state funds,” Muller said.

Damage at the Gilbertsville reservoir is estimated at $4 million to $5 million, according to Jack Dodson, consulting engineer for the village of Gilbertsville.

Dodson and Muller said they were to meet Tuesday with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to inspect damage between the reservoir and the confluence of Dunderberg and Butternut creeks.

“We will discuss ways to get the water back into its original channel,” Muller said.

Despite the unpromising outlook for flood relief, Dodson urged communities and property owners to “document in case FEMA comes in after the fact.”

Dodson said the Army Corps of Engineers has been working with U.S. Rep Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, to assess the damage.

Oberacker emphasized the need for communities to adopt a collective approach to damage assessment, encompassing communities in the affected counties of Broome, Chenango and Otsego counties.

“One voice will be a lot louder. The metric to be met can be challenging. There has to be an economy of scale based on the percentage of the municipal budget,” he said, noting the discrepancy between budgets for low-population rural communities and larger, more densely populated urban communities.

Oberacker said he intends to start a conversation about the discrepancy with his colleagues in the state Senate. He also mentioned the possibility of obtaining alternative loans after being denied a loan from a regular lending institution.

Angelino, having dealt with several major floods as chief of Norwich City Police, said he sent emails to fire departments in the affected areas, reminding them to keep track of all expenses, including gas and volunteer hours. He also suggested highway superintendents contact their respective Soil and Water Conservation Districts regarding ditching and clean-up.

“The Soil and Water Conservation District has a cheap seeding program, which helps with erosion,” he said.

Watson said involved agencies need to do more than restore streams and structures to pre-flood conditions.

“We need to take this opportunity to find mitigation solutions. This could be the chance to try something new,” he said. He also suggested that the DEC train local highway crews to do mitigative work in environmentally sensitive areas.

Oberacker said he would like for communities to have more leeway to carry out certain measures that would prevent catastrophic events from happening in the first place. Removal of trees fallen in streams and managing beaver dams would fall into that category.

“When we’re preventing communities from taking care of the populace, maybe we’re not doing things the way we should,” he said.

Muller said the village government is doing everything it can to get informed and seek relief for the community. He said he has found personnel at all levels of government to be sympathetic.

“Congressman Delgado’s office has been phenomenal. They will do anything they can to help us,” said Muller, who also praised Otsego County elected officials and departments for help rendered.

On July 22 the DEC issued an emergency authorization to help communities in Delaware, Montgomery, Otsego, Rensselaer and Schoharie counties rebuild infrastructure after severe storms and flash flooding.

The action authorized the DEC to expedite necessary permit reviews for work to repair infrastructure and structures on and over waterways, restore waterway channel capacity and perform other activities necessary to restore public safety. The DEC will conduct site visits, meet with property owners and local leaders, and offer technical guidance to review emergency permit applications.

DEC’s Region 4 Office has a standing General Permit, which authorizes specific regulated activities, including emergency stream repair work in protected waterbodies following a natural disaster. General Permits help communities rebuild by avoiding the process of seeking individual site-specific permits. Parties must apply to DEC for coverage under the permit before beginning work in a stream, including but not limited to: stream restoration; backfilling; stabilization; or infrastructure repair that would create a disturbance to the stream. DEC considers such coverage on a case-by-case basis.

DEC allows pumping out flood waters from residential structures without a permit. If possible, property owners are advised to pump water to a grassy area so that solids can settle out before entering nearby waterbodies. If flood water is tainted by chemicals or other hazardous materials, property owners are advised to immediately contact DEC’s Spill hotline at 1-800-457-7362.

For more information, go to dec.ny.gov/permits/96337.html. To assist with permits needed from recent flooding impacts and for a determination on whether proposed work requires a DEC permit or approval for projects in Delaware and Otsego counties, contact the Deputy Regional Permit Administrator Martha Bellinger, at martha.bellinger@dec.ny.gov or 607-652-7741.

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