The Times
  • How can flooding in the region be prevented?

  • Many communities throughout the Mohawk Valley are no strangers to flooding, but the recent bouts have many local officials and residents requesting that more be done to their waterways to mitigate the issue before it’s too late.

    Unfortunately, the solutions are not that easy and often times very costly.

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  • It was only two years ago that Ilion resident Shawn McGraw experienced flooding in his home on English Street.
    “That time we basically lost everything in the basement,” he said. “This time around it’s probably a hundred times worse.”
    Many communities throughout the Mohawk Valley are no strangers to flooding, but the recent bouts have many local officials and residents requesting that more be done to their waterways to mitigate the issue before it’s too late.
    Unfortunately, the solutions are not that easy and often times very costly.
    “The problems come from many different causes. We’ve developed watersheds. We’ve developed floodplains. We’ve altered stream channels,” said Janet Thigpen, flood mitigation specialist for the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board. “There is no silver bullet.”
    Several years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a report urging the area to take action in regard to the Mohawk River, its tributaries and the watershed, but state Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, said communities lacked the funds to pursue the suggestions within the report.
    “It may be time to look again at those recommendations and see if they can at least be modified,” Butler said. “The first thought that comes to mind is regional economic development councils.”
    The funding for municipalities as well as the conservation department might be out of reach, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said. But in the long term, the infrastructure is less expensive than the damage that can be wrought without it, he said.
    The total cost of damage for the recent floods in Herkimer and Oneida counties hasn’t yet been determined.
    In Mohawk, the overflow of Fulmer Creek did extensive damage to the village, and Mayor Jim Baron anticipates the municipal power system repairs to cost about $6 million.
    “We need to be proactive rather than reactive,” Brown said.
    In 2006, major flooding caused $20 million in damages in Herkimer County alone.
    Getting in the creeks
    Thigpen said proper planning and management of the lands end up being the key to living in flood-prone areas.
    “If we choose to build in a floodplain, we need to do it very judicially,” she said.
    Communication among the various government agencies as well as the residents becomes vital in this regard. The need for stronger relationships became evident recently during a meeting with local and state officials in Herkimer County.
    Ilion Village Mayor John Stephens expressed frustration with the “red tape” that municipalities are faced with when it comes to stream cleanup.
    “We used to get in (Steele Creek) twice a year to clean it,” he said.
    But in the last 25 years, Stephens said, the DEC has clamped down on that, introducing more regulations.
    Page 2 of 3 - “We need to have the ability on a yearly basis to get into these creeks,” he said to the group Wednesday.
    Judy Drabicki, regional director of District 6 for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, offered to set up meetings for later this week with local Department of Public Works superintendents to tour their waterways and come up with short-term and long-term solutions to flooding.
    Martens said he agreed routine maintenance is necessary.
    “A lot of the time when you clean out debris, the water moves faster,” Martens said. “We have to look at that closely. We want to make sure we’re not passing (the problem) downstream.”
    Communities are allowed to go into streams if it’s an emergency situation without immediate DEC notification, Martens said.
    Thigpen said that local municipalities going into waterways is a sensitive issue.
    “The history is that sometimes when people have gotten in and done extensive stream (management), they’ve made the situation worse,” she said. “So it needs to be designed with a good understanding of how the stream will respond.”
    Suggestions, concerns
    Herkimer Village Streets Superintendent Peter Macri said that dealing with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also presents a challenge.
    Macri said he feels the stone used in Bellinger Brook in Herkimer, which was approved by the Corps, isn’t going to stay.
    “With the velocity of water in that creek, I can pretty much guarantee it will move (the stone wall),” he said.
    The Corps, state DEC and Herkimer village officials met in May to discuss using concrete to line the creek, however Corps Public Affairs Officer Bruce Sanders said they encourage using natural materials as opposed to concrete.
     “Concrete lined channels are smooth and allow water to pass more quickly, which tends to create problems downstream,” Sanders wrote in an email. “In addition, concrete lined channels often offer virtually no wildlife habitat and are barriers to upstream/downstream movement of aquatic organisms.”
     The 2008 Army Corps’ report for managing the Mohawk River suggested numerous solutions, including:
    * A consistent debris removal program needs to begin.
    * Levee or floodwall construction. The report states, however, those measures would be difficult to justify in most areas because of low population density.
    * Restoration of wetlands. These provide critical water overflow storage when natural flooding occurs. The Utica Marsh and the Oriskany Wildlife Management Area are among the areas that could be involved.
    State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said the federal government should partner with state and locals to help develop flood mitigation projects.
    “It would be cheaper for the federal government to assist us in helping to fund flood mitigation projects, rather than coming in on a fairly regular basis and providing aid and assistance after a flood,” he said.
    Page 3 of 3 - The DEC commissioner also mentioned that green infrastructures such as retention basins, green roofs or even dams can help alleviate issues.
    “Slow it down and spread it out, so it doesn’t gather speed like it has,” Martens said.
    New Hartford Town Highway Superintendent Rick Sherman said that while their stormwater projects were damaged during the recent storms, it could have been worse. Erosion upstream on a creek near Woodberry Road caused sediment to jam things up, he said, and the force of water made it unavoidable.
    “It did what it was supposed to do,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the gravel coming down, it would have worked perfectly.”