The flood-ravaged towns of Jay and Keene have made a lot of progress since Tropical Storm Irene struck a little more than a year ago, but there's still work to do.
The Enterprise interviewed supervisors from both towns - Keene's Bill Ferebee and Jay's Randy Douglas - earlier this week at an Irene memorial event in AuSable Forks. Both men said recovery has been a long, tedious process, and they credited the hard work and dedication of town employees, volunteers and state officials for the progress that's been made so far.
Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee, left, and Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglass speak Tuesday at a press conference on the first anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene hitting the Adirondacks.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
Three big issues still need to be addressed in the town of Jay, which includes the hamlets of Upper Jay, Jay and AuSable Forks: property acquisition through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, debris cleanup and the relocation of the Upper Jay fire station.
Douglas said up to 55 homeowners in Essex County are still waiting for word on whether FEMA will acquire their property. Thirty-seven of those property owners live in the town of Jay.
"It's a year later, and people are wondering where we're at," Douglas said. "It's a tedious process, and I think there's some frustration out there. I assured our people that we've done everything we could. We put the application in, we got (FEMA) everything they need, so our applications are right up front."
Douglas said he thinks homeowners will receive word from FEMA within the next month.
There's also lot of debris on private property: tree limbs, old tires, kitchen appliances and other material that was swept downstream by flood waters. The town got a $500,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation earlier this year for debris removal, and it also received $175,000 to clean up the former Land of Makebelieve theme park, the remnants of which were wiped out by Irene's flood.
Douglas said that debris poses a significant risk to public safety and infrastructure.
The state has already helped the Upper Jay Volunteer Fire Department settle an insurance claim for $900,000. Town officials would prefer to move the firehouse to a new location where it wouldn't be at risk in the event of future flooding.
"Relocation over to the Valley Road is a strong possibility," Douglas said.
The town borrowed $3 million to pay for needed repairs after Irene. A third of that came from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation to build a new water main, and the rest of the money paid for road, bridge and culvert repairs, as well as rehabilitation of athletic fields and other infrastructure.
The town's total budget is about $2.2 million.
"The $3 million - we'll see what happens," Douglas said. "I'm hopeful the $1 million can be forgiven as a grant instead of a loan."
The town could be reimbursed by FEMA for the remaining loans.
Ferebee said his community has come a long way in the last year, and people's lives have, for the most part, returned to normal.
"The day after the flood was such an eerie day for me because you would walk along and see the fear in people's faces, the people who can't believe this had happened," he said. "And today, we're back to the smiling faces on the streets, and people are back to their normal selves, in a sense.
"The streetscapes look really good, but there's so much stuff behind the scenes - debris and damage - that still has to be addressed and cleaned up. We're looking at years."
A lot of the day-to-day cleanup after the storm was done by town highway crews and covered by payroll expenses. Ferebee said the town borrowed about $400,000 to start the "cash flow process" with FEMA. As of this week, the town had about $356,000 in its flood relief account.
"We've paid for projects; we've paid for materials; FEMA has reimbursed us," Ferebee said.
Two major projects are on the horizon, Ferebee said. One is a retaining wall along Gulf Brook that is currently estimated at about $180,000. Ferebee said he expects the cost to increase because the wall will need to be bigger than originally planned. The other is a weir near Marcy Field estimated at about $190,000.
Last year, the town had to budget for interest payments on its loans. Ferebee said that can be extended for another year "until we get our feet on the ground and can see exactly how much money we're going to have to pay.
"Financially, town-wise, we've been OK," he said.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.