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Public cost of Saranac Lake flood could hit $5M

May 3, 2011
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Staff ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - The preliminary cost estimate for damage to public infrastructure in the village caused by flooding of Lake Flower and the Saranac River over the past week is in the $5 million range.

"It's significant," village Manager John Sweeney said this morning. "The number I had is about $5 million, and that's only public property."

Although he stressed that these are just "rough estimates" at this point, Sweeney said about $2 million in damage was done at the village Wastewater Treatment Plant, part of which was overwhelmed by high water Friday, causing the plant to release partially treated sewage into the Saranac River.

Article Photos

The River Walk behind the Harrietstown Town Hall in the village of Saranac Lake sits submerged under water Monday afternoon.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

Damage to the Franklin County-owned Woodruff Street bridge could top $1.5 million, Sweeney said. Though the river never hit the bottom of the bridge, the flow of water was powerful enough to erode soil near the bridge's abutments.

"Although it's safe, we'll have to take a look at that one," Sweeney said.

The same problem caused an estimated $1 million in damage to the peninsula behind the Water Department building, below the Lake Flower dam. When the village opened the floodgate on the dam that's closest to the bridge, the water cut into and underneath the peninsula, opening up large sinkholes.

"It's slowly fading; it's falling apart," village Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Kevin Pratt said Monday. "It's very gradual, but it's noticeable."

Sweeney said he believes the peninsula is "compromised," and he's concerned about a water main that runs through that area, under the river and up to the village water tank on View Street.

"Yes we have concerns about it," Sweeney said. "We've looked to see if we have alternatives if we lost that line. If it failed, we have another, older line down further that we could turn back on. If that failed, we would come up with an alternative method to put water in the system."

Sweeney said the village won't be able to determine the condition of the water line, which is encased in concrete, until the flooding subsides. He said he doesn't want to jeopardize village workers' safety by digging into the peninsula.

In addition to the damage to the sewer plant, the Woodruff Street bridge and the peninsula, Sweeney listed scouring of the riverbed and damage to retaining walls and the River Walk, though he said those have "undetermined" costs at this point.

"All we're looking at right now from the village's standpoint is public infrastructure," he said. "That's the process we're in right now. There is going to be a private citizens' version of it. We will start gathering information from individuals and businesses who we know have been affected."

Sweeney said Franklin County Highway Superintendent John Hutchins has initially estimated the flooding caused $9 million in damage to public property across the county, including Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Dickinson Center.

As the state of emergency in the village entered its seventh day this morning, the water level in Lake Flower continued to drop. Sweeney said the water was 21 inches over the spillway at the dam and 3 inches below the Main Street bridge, which the county will inspect today. Downstream in the village, the river had returned to its banks in several locations, he said.

The emergency command post at the Saranac Lake firehouse is still in operation, but it's being scaled back. Fire departments from other parts of the North Country who were called in to assist with sandbagging, pumping and monitoring flooded areas were sent home Monday morning.

"What we've done across the board is we've kind of backed down on the staff that's coming in from the volunteers," Sweeney said. "The village has taken on more of it. Obviously we're trying to release some of the resources."

However, with more rain in the forecast - especially 1 to 2 inches tonight - officials said water levels could continue to fluctuate. Sweeney said the state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to release more water from its two locks upstream of the village sometime today.

"Right now there's about a 600-cubic-feet-per-second difference between what they're discharging and what we are," Sweeney said. "We are at 1,600, and they're about 1,000. They want to move it up to about 1,100 because the lakes have been holding back a lot of water. Hopefully we'll be able to keep the lake at the level it's at or below."

The people who've been evacuated from the flood zone will need to contact the village code enforcement office before they can return to their homes, Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brendan Keough said Wednesday.

"They'll also need to get in touch with their fuel companies to service their furnaces or their plumber to help get their basement pumped out," he said. "The fire department's resources are tapped out. We're not going to be in a position where we can pump out every basement. Homeowners should seek other resources."

Federal Emergency Mangement Agency officials are expected to be here later this week, Sweeney said.



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