When Oliverea residents Kate and Herb Van Baren’s house was flooded, “Our homeowner’s insurance covered nothing except the food that spoiled in our refrigerator,” said Kate. “A lot of people think they should get flood insurance only if they’re likely to get flooded. But homeowner’s doesn’t even cover you if a sewer backs up into your home. We’re in flood zone C, outside the 500-year flood plain, so our flood insurance was not that expensive. It’s well worth the money.”
Many area residents are struggling with insurance companies, hoping to defray the expenses of repair after the devastation of Hurricane Irene. Many of them want state and New York City agencies to help prevent future crises.
The Van Barens don’t know yet how much insurance money they will get. “It’s a time-consuming process,” says Kate. “The insurance adjuster says it will take up to 60 days, and someone else said up to four months.”
She said people shouldn’t expect FEMA to save them, although they can help obtain loans, and they gave the Van Barens a check for rent, since the couple and their daughter can’t live in the water-damaged house.
Kate expressed frustration with the condition of the Esopus Creek, which runs on the other side of Oliverea Road from her house. “All our neighbors who have been here their whole lives say same thing. It’s a valley, flooding is going to happen. People always used to go into the stream of their own accord, with backhoes or excavators or whatever they had at the time, so it stayed safe. Since 1980, that hasn’t been allowed. Now the level of sediment has built up. When we bought our house, it was 10 to 12 feet above the stream bed. Now it’s probably two to three feet above the stream bed.”
The Van Barens’ maple syrup business survived the flood, with minimal damage to equipment. The sap house is fine, wood for the evaporator still neatly stacked. “It will continue to be the location of the sugaring operation,” says Kate. “But it’s not a safe place to live any more unless things change significantly. If this would spur DEP and DEC to take action and make the community safe to live in, that would be good.”
She added that during the crisis, her neighbors were “wonderful. We met more people, had more conversations. It was tragic, but the community really came together. It’s such a great community.”
Kevin Ferry finds it ironic that flood insurance does not cover repairs to the landscape outside a house, even if the home is in danger of falling into the creek. His house in Shandaken, sandwiched between Route 28 and the Esopus, suffered only minor internal damage, not covered by homeowner’s insurance. He applied to FEMA, but because the house is not his primary residence, he did not qualify for assistance.
“Some people lost their homes, which is horrible,” he said. “Some had damage to their homes, which is also horrible. But a lot of people sustained damage to their property outside, which is not covered or protected by anything. No one takes responsibility for stream management, and homeowners are not allowed to go into streams and modify them. My goal is to collaborate with other community members and government agencies to get some planning.”