The Town of Shandaken is moving closer to approval of the Flood Mitigation Plan that has been in the making since Hurricane Irene wrought devastation in the town in 2011. At the July 1 public hearing, town supervisor Rob Stanley explained that once the plan is approved, the town will qualify for a wide range of government monies aimed at preventing future flood damage, including $3 million in Community Reconstruction Zone (CRZ) funds coming to Shandaken from New York State.
“To my knowledge, this is the first local municipal plan in the region,” Stanley said at the hearing. “Other municipalities are looking to use it as a model. Its adoption makes the town eligible for a tremendous amount of money coming down from CRZ, DEP [New York City Department of Environmental Protection], the state and Federal government. They all require us to have a plan in place,” in order to assure agencies that future flood recovery payouts will be diminished.
Measures recommended in the plan also aim at maintaining affordability of homeowners’ flood insurance rates, which are scheduled to go up with the completion of FEMA’s revised flood maps.
The 134-page flood mitigation plan was written by the consulting firm Tetra Tech, in cooperation with Shandaken Area Flood Assessment and Remediation Initiative (SAFARI), which was formed by representatives from local agencies after the two floods of late 2010 inundated Phoenicia’s Main Street. Funded by the DEP, the document took shape as Tetra Tech and SAFARI gathered data on the town and compiled a list of 77 actions recommended for improving Shandaken’s flood resiliency. (See sidebar for items from this list.)
Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program (AWSMP) and Ulster County Soil and Water Conservation District (UCSW) are two agencies that have worked on flood remediation projects in town. They identified projects along the streams that would help prevent future flooding, such as the reconstruction work along sections of the Stony Clove Creek that was begun last summer and is still underway.
One recommendation of the flood mitigation plan is to explore funding for elevation of homes in the floodplain and buyouts of property that have suffered repeated flood damage. Stanley reported that 22 properties in the town are being considered for buyout. “It’s the largest percentage in the county,” he said. “DEP doesn’t want them. They’ll probably be purchased by the county or the state.”
Flood insurance rates will rise
SAFARI has also been closely scrutinizing FEMA’s process of revising flood maps for the region, which will affect flood insurance rates. When the maps go into effect next year, land along formerly unmapped tributaries on Route 214 and the Oliverea Road will be considered floodplains, according to Stanley. In those areas, homeowners who are still paying off mortgages will be required to buy flood insurance.
While in the past, existing rates were grandfathered in as new maps went into effect, FEMA is changing its regulations, said Stanley. All homes affected by the new maps will experience flood insurance rate hikes. Furthermore, FEMA plans to withdraw its current financial support of flood insurance, leaving the entire burden for premiums on homeowners.
To compensate for these increases, the town is striving to qualify for flood insurance discounts. The flood mitigation plan will provide access to ranking on the Community Rating System (CRS), which awards credits for a town’s flood-preventive policies. Measures already taken by Shandaken will lead to a 10 to 15 percent discount in the forthcoming insurance hikes.
Stanley gave examples of further actions that could lead to a 20 to 25 percent discount, such as passage of ordinances that require larger culvert sizes and wider bridge spans when rebuilding driveways and roads that cross streams.
“We’re also going to start tracking building permits and activities in the floodplain,” said Stanley, to ensure that renovations over time do not fall short of building codes. This process will be made easier by a planned overhaul of the town’s filing system for properties. The system now orders by name of homeowner, rather than parcel identification number, creating discontinuity when properties are sold.
SAFARI has found inaccuracies in the new flood maps, which detail flood vulnerability along the Esopus Creek and its tributaries, from Belleayre to near the Ashokan Reservoir. For example, a map indicates that the Shandaken/Allaben fire station was inundated in 2011. “We’ve been through Irene; we know where the water went,” noted Stanley. “But FEMA can’t accept that. Everything has to be science-based.”
When SAFARI members asked the engineer to take another look at his computer model, he found an error and was able to confirm that, although the intersection of Routes 42 and 28 was underwater, Irene left the firehouse unscathed.
In Fox Hollow, where the maps rely on U.S. Geological Survey measurements of channel depth, the volume of water has been misrepresented because the stream filled up with dirt as a result of the hurricane, creating a temporary separate channel. Although shallow, the stream is still prone to flooding. “We’re still in discussion with them about that one,” said Stanley.
On Wednesday, July 24, AWSMP is hosting an educational seminar for municipal leaders and planning board members about the complexities of flood mapping and insurance issues at the Emerson Inn. Information from that event will be relayed to the public at a meeting on Thursday, July 25, at 1 p.m. at the town hall. At that meeting, Stanley hopes the board will vote to adopt the plan.