Plattsburgh State Professor Timothy Mihuc speaks to those assembled at the Jay Communtiy Center to talk about the Ausable River and its needs in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene damage.
Officials from town, state and federal agencies along with environmental groups were on hand at the Jay Community Center on the first day of November to talk about what needs to be done to solve the problems associated with the 28th day of August — the day tropical storm Irene ravaged the region.
Jay Supervisor Randall “Randy” Douglas and Keene counterpart William “Bill” Ferebee hosted a meeting between members of the two towns, FEMA, the Department of Environmental Conservation, Army Corps of Engineers, Ausable River Association, Adirondack Park Agency, Adirondack Wild and the Adirondack Council, among others, for a chance for all sides to talk and respond to questions from those who attended.
FEMA representative John Patterson said there have been 526 registrations in Essex County for services and $2 million had been distributed in Essex County. Patterson also said that the deadline for filing for relief had been extended until Dec. 15.
“If you haven’t registered, you really need to do that now and get into the system,” Patterson said.
“This district probably got hit harder than any other district in New York,“ Mark Westcott, representing Congressman Chris Gibson, said. “We have been working with everyone, and we want people to tell us what they need and we will try to advocate for them.”
“Your supervisors have done a tremendous job and they are all working hard, and my role here is to help wherever I can,” state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward said.
“This is an important discussion,” Rick Weber of the APA said. “This has been a very incredible year, not just with Irene but with the spring flooding. It has been incredible work by the highway departments and everyone to put things back together as quickly as they have. Our role is to review and quickly provide our advice on matters pertaining mostly to issues that involve the river banks.”
Brian Houseal of the Adirondack Council echoed Weber.
“All of the environmental hazards were removed and the bridges and road were rebuilt and the emergency crews went above and beyond to keep people safe,” Houseal said. “We can work together through this, and we have a lot to do.”
Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild said that there were discussions that needed to happen in order for all of the organizations involved to be on the same page.
“There are questions and concerns and issues to discuss, but like it says on the sign in front of the Keene Town Hall, we’re all in this together,” Plumley said. “Tonight, we may have more questions than answers, but the fact is that we need to work toward our goal and work together for some time to come.”
“Everybody has worked together for the things that we have needed in the North Country,” Douglas said, pointing out that party politics played no role in the recovery process.
However, Douglas added that he felt there needed to be more done in terms of getting funding to the municipalities that needed it.
“What the DEC has done with working with us has been great and we know that we have more to do,” Douglas said. “Unfortunately, we need more. We are not equipped to do some of the things in the rivers that we need to.”
“My biggest fear is where we are going to end up,” Jay DPW Commissioner Chris Garrow said. “I have put this town in an awful hole financially with the work that we have had to do. We are still operating a water line that is being run through a fire hose.”
Ferebee said that he hoped that any negative feelings toward the project could be turned around, but admitted later that he did want to know when towns would be receiving funds for the recovery efforts.
“I think that we made some headway here, but not nearly what I expected,” Ferebee said.
All parties agreed that they needed to continue to discuss and coordinate between each other. The meeting, which was attended by more than 100 residents from the local towns affected by the flooding both in the spring and August, lasted for nearly four hours.