While the work continues in the field, pushing to finish up before the Oct. 8 deadline, lawmakers from Essex County say a river management plan is needed in order to mitigate future flooding in communities along the AuSable River and its tributaries.
County board Chairman Randy Douglas, D-Jay, sent a letter to numerous high-ranking state and federal officials on Monday, pleading for help in drafting a mitigation plan before next spring. The letter was addressed to President Barack Obama, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Senators Kirstin Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, state Sen. Betty Little and several others.
Douglas traveled to Albany on Tuesday for an economic development conference featuring a keynote speech by former President Bill Clinton. He had a chance to catch up with Cuomo during a reception at the Executive Mansion.
Town of Jay Highway Superintendent Chris Garrow stands on stones deposited in a former channel off the AuSable River below AuSable Forks. The river now runs only on the other side of the island seen behind Garrow. Town workers will remove the stones this week because many believe they will cause ice jams and flooding in the spring, and some neighbors suggest removing all the island's trees and stumps.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"I did get a chance to talk with the governor about our concerns regarding the river," Douglas said. "I told him that we just don't have the resources locally to continue with some of the work that needs to be done."
The way the flooding changed the path and character of rivers and brooks could be "extremely detrimental" to residents in Keene, Jay and AuSable Forks, according to Douglas.
"The rocks and uprooted trees that have been deposited in the river from the repeated flooding have built up islands in the river where they did not formerly exist," Douglas said. Some of the islands are seen as problematic because they could cause ice jams and therefore flooding in developed areas such as AuSable Forks.
On Tuesday, town of Jay Highway Superintendent Chris Garrow showed the Enterprise one channel downstream of AuSable Forks, next to an island that he sees as problematic because a deposit of rocks has clogged it up. He said he's already gotten permission to clear these stones from the river, but people affected by the flooding have asked him to do even more in that area.
They've asked him to see if it's possible to cut down all the trees on the island and tear out all the trunks. They believe that would let ice chunks flow downstream during spring breakup, instead of clogging and causing floods, as has often happened in this area in the past.
"This is where the ice catches right here," said Garrow, standing on the stones. "Then it backs up into the AuSable Forks area."
Because of problem areas like this, the Essex County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution last week urging state and federal officials to send resources and manpower to comprehensively investigate the AuSable River and its tributaries. Douglas said rural Adirondack communities are already stretched thin and that many lack the expertise needed to perform such studies. He said local governments can be active partners in investigating the river corridor but will need help from more experienced agencies like the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers to develop long-term plans for flood mitigation.
According to Douglas, an official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that a river management plan could take up to 10 years to complete. In the letter sent out Monday, Douglas said communities here "do not even have 10 months."
County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish said the Army Corps has completed a preliminary study of the AuSable River that shows current areas of concern, as well as maps and pictures of debris, but he added that Douglas and other lawmakers are looking for a study that addresses future issues.
Local governments are pushing to extend the Oct. 8 deadline to complete cleanup and repair projects before APA and DEC permitting regulations return. Cuomo used an executive order to suspend the regulations Aug. 30.
"There's still all kinds of stuff in the river in places where people can't see it," Jaquish said. "It will take months to complete the work."
Douglas said he asked Cuomo if the suspension of DEC and APA permitting could be extended beyond the current deadline. Sen. Little and DEC Commissioner Joe Martens were present for that conversation.
"I don't want to speak for anyone, but they seemed open to the idea," Douglas said. "The governor didn't indicate either way when we were talking, but he said he would take our concerns into consideration."