SARANAC LAKE - U.S. Rep Bill Owens was in this village Thursday to get a first-hand look at some of the damage to public infrastructure caused by the recent flooding of Lake Flower and the Saranac River.
Village Manager John Sweeney led the Plattsburgh Democrat on an hour-long tour of the area around the village dam at Lake Flower and the wastewater treatment plant. Owens listened and asked questions as Sweeney outlined the known infrastructure damage, noting that the full extent of the flooding's impact isn't know because lake and river levels are still high.
When Sweeney said the preliminary damage estimate is in the $6 million range, Owens' first reaction was, "Wow."
Saranac Lake Village Manager John Sweeney, right, talks with U.S. Rep. Bill Owens Thursday in a tour of areas impacted by recent flooding.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"It's overwhelming," the congressman later told the Enterprise. "When you see what Mother Nature can do, it's incredible. The real concern is the need for the water levels to go down. The way it's moving now, given the rain this week and predictions of more rain over the next couple days, I think it's going to be a while before we have a sense of how much damage was actually done."
The tour began on the Main Street bridge, which was closed for a week when the water level in the lake, fueled by a surge of rain and spring snowmelt, rose to the point where it was hitting the span. The Dorsey Street bridge, just downstream, was also closed for the same reason.
Below the dam, Sweeney showed Owens where water was coming through stone retaining walls and the foundation of the Water Department building. They walked across a pedestrian bridge, which is still closed to the public, to the peninsula of land known as Hydro Point Park, where the flooding opened up sinkholes and caused extensive erosion.
Owens also got a look at the damage to the River Walk behind the Harrietstown Town Hall, where the boardwalk's piers were moved and damaged beyond repair.
Farther downstream, the flood damaged sections of two sewer mains, on Dorsey and Woodruff streets.
"We've got some damage, and we're still trying to figure out what the damage is," Sweeney told Owens. "We were told it was a 500-year flood. My best guess is that's what it was. We had water in places we never knew it could get."
Later, Sweeney drove the congressman to the sewer plant so he could inspect the structural and mechanical damage to two the facility's final clarifiers. At the height of the flooding on April 29, the clarifiers were overwhelmed with water from the river, causing partially treated sewage to be released downstream. The village's engineers have recommended replacing the clarifiers, which could cost $2.2 million.
Village officials have provided their preliminary damage estimates to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If a federal disaster declaration is issued, the village could be eligible for disaster aid to help cover repair costs.
Owens said officials from the State Emergency Management Office could provide a recommendation to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a matter of days.
"If that happens, that's the initial step in moving it forward to the federal government," Owens said. "It's hard for me to believe, given what we've seen here, that we're not going to get both the state and the federal declaration."
Owens said he doesn't play an official role in the process but is taking more of an advisory and advocacy role for communities in his district. He planned to inspect flood damage in Moriah later Thursday and in Tupper Lake today.
Sweeney said he was grateful to have Owens advocating for the village.
"It's great to be able to talk your representatives one on one about what's going on, not just for us but for all the communities that are dealing with it," Sweeney said. "He has been here, he's seen it, he's visualized what's going on, and he understands that we're still in the process."
The water level in Lake Flower had risen over the weekend and earlier this week due to several days of rain. On Tuesday the lake was 21 inches over the spillway at the Lake Flower dam, but as of Thursday it had dropped to 18 inches over the spillway, Sweeney said.
At its meeting Monday night, Sweeney said the village board will consider hiring an engineer to conduct a more thorough assessment of the infrastructure damage caused by the flooding.