Irene, good night

Some times I live in the country
Some times I live in town
Some times I take a great notion
To jump in the river and drown

Irene good night Irene good night
Good night Irene Good night Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams,

— Huddie Ledbetter, 1933

 

It certainly feels like the beginning of September, doesn’t it? The nights are getting colder, the days shorter. The first mums have already been delivered and are standing guard outside the grocery stores. The kids are going back to school any day now. In preparation for winter, firewood is being stacked in the yard. The early apples like Ginger Gold have been at the farmers’ markets for several weeks now. Local sweet corn is coming down in price even as vegetables from afar are becoming more expensive.

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On television one can see the path of Hurricane Isaac being tracked through the Gulf of Mexico, just the way that exactly a year ago Irene was being tracked moving inexorably up the Eastern Seaboard. The probabilities are being coolly explained. You’ll know if the worst has happened when and if it’s happens to you.

Few songs express so forlorn a sense of despair and unhappiness as Goodnight Irene, its tone of bittersweet irony perfect accompaniment to the hurricane that raged through the region a year ago this week. Irene, never to be forgotten by those who experienced it, was a life-changing event. We told ourselves that the tapestry of everyday life would never be the same. Yet a year later, reassuringly or not, it seems to be almost the same. How time heals wounds and changes memory.

 

New Paltz gets flooded

In the southern part of Ulster County, Hurricane Irene caused the loss of farm crops, property, evacuations, road closures and several roads and bridges to wash away, along with power outages that lasted for weeks, downed wires, trees and round-the-clock emergency service response.

In New Paltz, the flats were flooded, the entire Wallkill Valley View Farm and farm market were underwater, and the Wallkill River raged. In an effort to get people to safety before they became stranded or their homes engulfed with water, the police ordered mandatory evacuations on Water Street, Springtown Road and Dug Road.

Last year at this time New Paltz town supervisor Toni Hokanson and mayor Jason West jointly signed a state of emergency and established an emergency command center. West instituted a curfew that banned people from being out in the streets after 7 p.m. Sunday night, restricted the sale of alcohol, and closed all village businesses, bars and restaurants.

Route 299 from the Carmine Liberta bridge to the west remained closed for a record five days, landlocking many who lived west of the Wallkill. The community came together for “Flood Aid,” which raised approximately $55,000 for farms, families and first responders impacted by the storm, as well as for Family of New Paltz.

Mayor West, a year later, feels that New Paltz was “… lucky, very lucky, as the predictions for the storm were so much worse than what we received. They were predicting 80 MPH winds, much greater amounts of continued rainfall the result of which, had it played out that way, could have wiped out our village as it did in many other places like Tannersville and Phoenicia and in the Catskills.”

 

Highland infrastructure hit

In Highland an intense amount of rainfall in a short period resulted in a surge of water down Vineyard Avenue, turning the roadway into a river that flowed through the hamlet to the Hudson River. “It wiped out our sewer plant,” said Lloyd supervisor Paul Hansut. Renovations and an upgrade of the town’s sewage treatment plant on River Road were close to 80% completion when Irene hit.

Like New Paltz, Highland is still waiting on FEMA money to offset the cost of the Irene damage to their infrastructure. “The storm definitely compromised many of our roads and bridges and that work has not stopped,” Hansut said. “The DOT just completed a project on Vineyard Avenue where there were literally holes in the road that a car could have fallen into. We’re going out to bid to replace a box culvert on North Road that we can safely say was compromised by the flooding caused by Irene.” Irene “exposed drainage issues that we didn’t know we had and we’re not working pro-actively to address those issues before another storm hits us.” A combined water-sewer-drainage committee has prioritized infrastructure issues.

“Yes, we took a hit, but it helped us to see where we need to make improvements, get our roads in better shape, and be even more prepared if we have another storm like that or worse than that,” the supervisor said. “But I feel very grateful for our town that we were not decimated like so many other places. You look at those videos and pictures or take a tour of some of our towns.”

 

Flooding in Shandaken

Almost every week in the past year, an article about Shandaken has mentioned the flooding that swept over the town during Hurricane Irene. Whether the news is about stream remediation on the Stony Clove Creek to prevent future flood damage or the optimism of newcomers who have bought local restaurants and hotels in defiance of the historic flood, the disaster that hit Shandaken in August 2011 persists in our consciousness.

The immediate effects included damage to low-lying homes and roads, with a section of Oliverea cut off from civilization for several days by washed-out bridges. Those whose property had been spared helped clean up mud-strewn homes, the community coming together in a powerful way, while town crews worked to rebuild roads and bridges. For some residents, this assistance was enough to restore a sense of normalcy. Others, a year later have found their lives irrevocably changed.

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