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FEMA officials visit Saranac Lake

July 23, 2011
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to the village this week for a meeting with local officials.

It was the first time FEMA officials had been in the village since early June, when President Barack Obama declared a federal disaster area in Essex, Franklin and 19 other New York counties that were affected by widespread flooding this spring. The declaration makes federal money available to help pay for infrastructure repair or replacement.

Village Manager John Sweeney described Wednesday's session as a "kick-off" meeting. He said FEMA representatives gave the village 60 days to report back with cost estimates to repair public infrastructure damage, and to provide a general outline of each project.

Article Photos

The village of Saranac Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant looks like an island surrounded by the flooded Saranac River in this photo taken from a helicopter on April 29.
(Photo courtesy of the Saranac?Lake Volunteer Fire Department)

Sweeney said he thinks it's going to take more than 60 days to do that work.

"My first comment to the FEMA guy was where to I sign on the dotted line for an extension," he said Friday.

The spring floods, which were triggered by a combination of heavy rain and snowmelt, caused roughly $6 million in damage to village infrastructure. The village has hired two engineering firms - AES Northeast and Barton & Loguidice - to assess flood damage in the following areas: the wastewater treatment plant's final clarifiers, the sewer mains beneath Dorsey and Woodruff streets, the River Walk, the Hydro Point Park retaining wall, the village offices, the water department building, the Lake Flower dam floodgates and the sewer and storm sewer lines on Duprey Street and Pelkey Lane. The Saranac River banks, the Lake Flower shoreline and the Riverside Park headwall have also been listed as areas that were impacted by erosion during the flooding.

Sweeney said he doesn't know whether the $6 million damage estimate will rise or fall. Some of the damaged infrastructure still needs to be inspected.

"I'd say it's still close," he said. "At the time we put those numbers together we still had a flood event. It's still some place in that neighborhood. Is it going to be higher or lower? I don't know yet."

Sweeney said upcoming inspections of the damaged infrastructure will help the engineers and the village determine which projects to present to FEMA as the biggest priorities. At this point, the village manager said he believes fixing Hydro Point is one of the two biggest priorities.

"I'm not 100 percent convinced that if we had another flood event that it would survive," he said. "The next priority is water and sewer infrastructure, which is multiple locations. Stuff like the River Walk, it's more of a corrective action. I won't call them secondary, but my focus is the public infrastructure issues where if something happened it would really jeopardize something."

The damage to the sewer plant's final clarifiers, which were overwhelmed with water from the Saranac River at the height of the flooding, could be one of the big ticket items. But Sweeney said the extent of the damage to the clarifiers isn't known yet.

"We've got another engineer coming in to look at it," he said. "If it's a full replacement, then we've got to take those clarifiers out of service and there's a whole laundry list of things we have to do prior to fixing or replacing those. But first we've got to find out what's wrong with them."

The village recently announced that it may have to lower the water level in Lake Flower for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission inspection of the Lake Flower Dam on Aug. 8. Sweeney said that inspection was scheduled to take place in May but had to be postponed. Given the flooding that happened in the spring, the scope of the inspection has expanded, Sweeney said.

One of the dam's floodgates was damaged during the flooding, and there's been erosion in some areas around it, but Sweeney said he doesn't think there are any major issues with the dam's integrity.

Sweeney said the village will likely have to front the money for repairs and then be reimbursed by FEMA. The agency traditionally pays 75 percent of the cost of repairs, with the remaining 25 percent split between the state and the municipality, he said.

He said he's already learned there are some things the village will not be reimbursed for, like the overtime staff accumulated dealing with the crisis.

"But I look at it this way - any assistance we get out of this is a good thing," Sweeney said.

In addition to Sweeney, the village's engineers and FEMA officials, Wednesday's meeting was attended by representatives of the state Office of Emergency Management, Franklin County Emergency Services, the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad and the town of Harrietstown.



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