Route 9N, a road that connects several area towns between Keene and Upper Jay, was one of many roads that was destroyed by flooding.
Members of the Essex County Board of Supervisors discussed several issues pertaining to problems related to post-Tropical Storm Irene cleanup and recovery during a visit from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Relations Manager Don Hawkins during the Sept. 26 Ways and Means Committee meeting.
While several issues did not pertain directly to FEMA, several supervisors wanted it known what their towns were now facing.
Board Chair and Jay Supervisor Randall “Randy” Douglas said that his main concern is the state of the Ausable River and the potential for flooding in the future due to erosion from the last three flooding events.
“There is definitely some research that needs to be done on the Ausable and the streams that flow into it,” Douglas said. “I understand that environmental groups are concerned about having machinery in the rivers, but I have to do what is best for the public safety of the people in my town and in my county.”
Douglas said that, due to the changed shape of the Ausable from the recent storms, he fears that it will be easier for a flood event to happen in Jay in the spring when the winter thaw happens.
“I was told by an anonymous source that it would take about 10 years to do a study on the river and then to start the work,” Douglas said. “These people do not even have 10 months before the next chance for flooding, and it is not going to take much next spring. The river’s course and flow has changed because of what has happened this year.”
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said that he did have a preliminary study from the Army Corps of Engineers concerning the river. Jaquish also said that the EPA was currently working on hazardous waste removal in the local rivers and streams.
“They are taking things that are a hazard, like dead animals and propane and fuel tanks that were washed into the river,” Jaquish said.
Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said that he felt the crews needed to be able to continue to work in the rivers with their machinery, despite claims otherwise.
“You can’t get the big debris out of these rivers and streams without machines,” Scozzafava said. “If you do not do something to these rivers and streams, things will be right back to where we are now, and that will only take a matter of time.”
Douglas said that federal help is needed to bring in experienced people to deal with the situation.
“We have road workers on our highway crews, we don’t have engineers,” Douglas said.
Douglas also said that he was concerned that there needed to be more done to help those who were affected by the storm, including second home owners.
“They can’t afford to fix these places up when they have $1 million in damages and only qualify for $100,000 in SBA loans,” Douglas said. “They are coming in, throwing their keys on my desk and telling me that they are not dealing with the property anymore and are never coming back.”
Hawkins said that for those who feel they did not get an appropriate answer on their request for aid, those people need to appeal the decision.
“Don’t always go with the first response,” Hawkins said. “You can always appeal.”
Douglas also said that he would support residents in Jay, where 150-plus homes were affected by the flooding, who chose to receive a buyout on their homes and relocate.
“I will support them, but you are losing the identity, the tax base and some long-time family members of the community,” Douglas said.
Keene Supervisor William “Bill” Ferebee said that he wanted officials in charge of relief efforts to do what Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others have done.
“They need to come and let us show the officials these spots and then they will see what we are facing,” Ferebee said.
As part of the meeting, the board of supervisors passed several resolutions in relation to the recovery, including a resolution that the state legislature approves a bill to lower assessments for those affected by the flooding; urging Gov. Cuomo and the U.S. Congress to immediately do inspections on the rivers and brooks within the county; urging the Governor to approve and expedite the process of Community Development Block Grants for five towns in the county; and urging the Governor to relieve counties of the 12.5-percent local share relative to FEMA Disaster Assistance funding.
All of the supervisors commended FEMA for the work that they have done in the communities affected.
“They have been the most professional and very easy to work with,” Douglas said.