Keene’s Irene rebuild isn’t over

County readies another phase of Gulf Brook restoration

Gulf Brook and state Route 73 in Keene are seen from the air on Aug. 29, 2011, the day after Tropical Storm Irene turned the normally placid brook into a torrent that jumped its banks and ran across the highway. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

KEENE — Storm recovery work continues in this hamlet more than eight years after Tropical Storm Irene drenched the east coast and caused Gulf Brook to overflow its banks.

The Essex County Board of Supervisors is poised to kick-start the bidding process for the second phase of a riverbank rehabilitation project in Keene, which is fully funded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. The county board’s Ways and Means Committee moved the measure forward Tuesday, and it’s now pending approval by the full board June 3.

This latest phase will bring the restoration of Gulf Brook from the Bucks Lane Bridge by the Keene Town Hall to the AuSable River’s East Branch.

“The goal is to engineer the riverbanks to handle flood runoff without the river overflowing its banks and damaging people’s homes and businesses,” town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson said. “We want to make room in the river channel for the water to expand and slow down, without overflowing.”

A county-owned bridge over the brook will also be replaced as part of the project.

“We need to put a longer bridge span at the Bucks Lane Bridge to make some more room for water to flow through,” he said.

Altogether, this phase is expected to cost $2.4 million, according to Wilson. Once a contract has been awarded, work is expected to last through two construction seasons, with projected completion by late 2020.

The plans are one piece of a larger storm recovery project that started more than four years ago.

When Tropical Storm Irene moved through the area in August 2011, the town’s firehouse was ripped in half by Gulf Brook floodwaters. Some homes were flooded, as was the downtown.

The stormwater receded within hours, leaving in its wake damage that would take years to remedy.

Three years after the flood, the old Keene firehouse was torn down and replaced with a new one. But the matter of Gulf Brook remained.

The towns of Keene and Jay were jointly awarded $3 million from the state flood recovery initiative New York Rising in 2014, and the towns also shared $6 million in 2013.

The first phase of Keene’s portion of the project started with the restoration of Gulf Brook from the location of the old firehouse to the edge of the Bucks Lane Bridge. The width of the brook was expanded to facilitate better water and sediment flow.

After phase two is completed, a third $1.2 million phase will bring the restoration further up Gulf Brook, Wilson said.

Whatever’s left of the state funding after all three phases are complete will go toward a separate restoration project at Beady Brook, he said. That would include rehabilitation of Jackson Road.

“We’re down to the barest of bank support there,” Wilson said. “It’s in danger of imminent failure.

“Without the funding from the state, I don’t know how we would be able to afford to fix Jackson Road.”

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