SCHOHARIE — The Schoharie Board of Supervisors on Friday defeated a proposed $10 million bond that would have created additional flood-mitigation funding after the Natural Resources Conservation Service halted payouts over concerns with the management of the $24 million stream restoration project.
"It's a lot to burden the taxpayers with," said Jefferson Town Supervisor Sean Jordan, suggesting it would be "a gamble" because further project delays could drain still more money from county coffers.
Several officials voiced optimism that the county will soon convince the NRCS to lift its suspension and continue the payouts for the restoration of four streams heavily damaged in flooding unleashed by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee four years ago.
County Attorney Michael West said the project amounts to the largest stream restoration work in the nation and is an attempt to avoid further devastation from floods. Two contractors have been at work restoring four streams under the auspices of an engineering firm retained by the county.
Though the work has continued after the NRCS suspended funding, the contractors are owed millions of dollars and several officials said they are concerned about the contractors walking off the job if they aren't paid soon.
"We're trying to work out these issues so the contractors don't leave," West said. "If the contractors leave, there may be greater damage from the spring floods."
While there is a Nov. 12 deadline to complete the work, West said the county has been assured by the NRCS that the date could be extended.
Cost overruns on the project have already amounted to some $3 million, and the Board of Supervisors was criticized this week in an audit issued by the state Comptroller's office for failing to provide adequate oversight to the work.
Middleburgh Town Supervisor James Buzon, who voted for the proposed bond, said he did so to show "good faith" to the contractors, though he noted he is convinced that NRCS will ultimately be persuaded to lift the suspension on payments.
Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, said it is vital to complete the project.
"We're going to do it as quickly as possible," he said. "The stop-and-start action only adds more costs. Any delay or loss of this project puts residents at risk. If we don't attend to these streams, people are going to get hurt."