Shandaken weathers the storm

Storm waters carved away the bank alongside the High Street pump station and well head. (photo by Violet Snow)

A State of Emergency was declared at 8 p.m. in Shandaken Tuesday, September 18, as an estimated seven inches of rain fell on the region. County road crews were working the next day to restore sections of road in Oliverea, while Phoenicia water commissioner Rick Ricciardella said about six feet of bank had been wiped away by the Esopus Creek near High Street, endangering a component of the Phoenicia water system.

Roads were closed in Woodland Valley and low-lying parts of Phoenicia Tuesday night, but by the following sun-drenched morning, the waters had subsided. Town supervisor Rob Stanley said the good news was that last fall’s dredging of the Stony Clove Creek held up, preventing flooding on Main Street.


“Traditionally, when the Cold Brook stream gage hits 14 feet, water goes over the Main Street bridge,” said Stanley. “Last night the gage hit 14.6 feet, and there was not an inkling of water going down Main Street. The stream stayed safely below the bridge and in its channel.”

The town has been requesting a similar digging out under Oliverea’s McKinley Hollow bridge, which might have prevented the washout that is now under repair for the second time in a year. The road had sustained major damage from Hurricane Irene.

“Because of the gravel bar accumulation, the water had no place to go except onto the road,” explained Stanley. “Streams are going to fill up with gravel as they erode the mountains. We need to remove the gravel and help the stream stay in its course.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have been criticized for their long-standing policy against dredging of streams, which many locals blame for the extensive flood damage over the past 15 years. Since the months before Hurricane Irene, the agencies have begun to approve carefully engineered projects for gravel removal and stream modification in high-risk areas.

One of those projects, to reinforce the creek bank alongside the High Street pump station, was scheduled to begin this week, said Stanley, but with the water running high from the storm, the highway department will probably have to wait for spring. “We’re planning to put in armoring for the bank and a retaining wall to protect the embankment and the High Street station,” Stanley said. Funds for the project are to come from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The pump station provides the Phoenicia Water District with a back-up water source from a well next to the building, said Ricciardella. He was preparing to turn on the pump because the main water supply was low, until the storm arrived. The well head is now perched on the edge of the creek, due to erosion from the storm.

Coalition backs Shandaken bid

In other news, Stanley attended the September 18 meeting of the Coalition of Watershed Towns (CWT), which voted unanimously to request that the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) restore septic program eligibility for Phoenicia residents. Stanley had asked the CWT for support when CWC declared that Phoenicia could not receive septic repair funds due to its former participation in the sewer construction program. Now it’s up to the CWC to respond, said Stanley. The next CWC is meeting on October 2.

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