Nothing suspicious in spate of Shandaken fires

Pump house on south bank of Esopus Creek. (photo by Violet Snow)

Pump house on south bank of Esopus Creek. (photo by Violet Snow)

Key Bank officials are waiting for a report from insurance investigators on how to deal with the Phoenicia branch that burned on February 16, said Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley at the March 2 town board meeting. “According to Key Bank officials,” he stated, “they will make every effort to reopen as soon as they are given the okay to proceed with reconstruction from bank executives.”

Key Bank spokesperson Therese Myers was less definitive about future plans, commenting, “We are evaluating options that will allow us to continue serving our Phoenicia clients. We are contacting clients individually regarding next steps. Authorities continue to investigate the fire’s cause.”


When asked whether reconstruction was certain, Myers replied, “Any decision about the branch’s future will require an extended period of evaluation. As soon as we have an update, we will let our clients know.”

Stanley said a temporary secure entrance has been constructed to allow customers with safety deposit boxes, which were not damaged, to access their belongings. Meanwhile, a petition on has been initiated to urge Key to reopen the branch. As of March 3, the petition had 137 signatures.

The bank fire was one of a series of blazes in Shandaken last month. A cabin burned on West Street on February 13, and the Key Bank rekindled on February 18, two days after it was extinguished. Since then, there has been a trailer fire near the Legion Hall, a chimney fire on Ernst Road, and a garage fire in Mt. Tremper. “None appear to be of a suspicious nature,” said Stanley, “but merely coincidental in their timing.”

He expressed gratitude to the firefighters and other emergency personnel from both Shandaken and neighboring towns, who endured sometimes sub-zero temperatures while quelling the flames. “Know that when these fires break out,” he commented, “especially in the brutally cold temperatures we experienced, there are no magic fire-fighting gnomes that come to our aid — it is our neighbors and friends who brave the elements for our own protection.”

Later in the meeting, volunteer fireman Chuck Perez of Big Indian made a plea for more residents to participate in local fire departments, remarking, “We’re in dire circumstances. When I first volunteered, 35 years ago, the average age in the department was 35. Now it’s over 50. The youth don’t seem to have interest. We’d like to extend an open invite to anyone in the community to join the service. There’s always a job for someone, regardless of their ability or knowledge.”

He said people are needed for such tasks as making coffee for the firefighters and, with just a bit of training, operating the radio. Perez added, “If we could fill the small jobs with people who are willing, that could free up the able-bodied to do the grunt work.”


Flood mitigation approaches identified

Stanley announced that SAFARI, the Shandaken Area Flood Assessment and Remediation Initiative, met with the town’s engineering firm, Milone and MacBroom, to discuss preliminary findings from flood modeling for Phoenicia and Mount Tremper. “Some ideas are showing promising results,” he said, “especially in Phoenicia, where there are several identified approaches to flood mitigation. Mount Tremper is proving more difficult, as the volume of water flowing through the confluence and the meander are quite substantial.”

Focus is on stream crossings and developed areas that cut off the stream from its flood plain. A report on the engineers’ findings and recommendations will be presented in the hamlets in April. The engineering study is being paid for by the Ashokan Watershed Council and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County. Projects that show sufficient promise will be eligible for funding through regional, state, and federal sources.


Phoenicia Water troubles persist

Phoenicia Water customers on the south side of the Esopus Creek can expect several more weeks of a boil water order as the district waits for parts to repair the frozen water main over the Bridge Street bridge. A temporary replacement main also froze, and High Street, Lane Street, and Station Road residents are now receiving water from the High Street well, deemed not potable by the Ulster County Department of Health several years ago. The water is safe for washing and flushing and can be consumed if boiled for 15 minutes. The water department has also purchased pallets of bottled water that are available at the Phoenicia fire house upon presentation of proper identification.

The water main broke, and a pipe that fell into the creek was retrieved by the highway department, according to Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley. An emergency meeting was held to address the issue. Town engineers are studying the situation and will make a recommendation on how to proceed with the repair, which requires upgrading supports for the main. Candace Balmer of RCAP Solutions, a consultant helping the district with a grant application, has already sent in a request for emergency grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, said Stanley, town residents have experienced freeze-ups in the pipes leading from service connections into homes. “That’s not something the town can address,” cautioned Stanley. “Some people have been leaving their faucets trickling, but in this cold, that’s not enough. Run the water from one faucet full-bore.”

Councilman Vin Bernstein observed that problems have been reported with septics freezing because of water trickling into septic systems. Stanley, a plumber by trade, acknowledged that possibility but commented, “A sewer line is easier to defrost than a water line. It’s a catch-22.” Titan Drilling in Arkville can defrost pipes, but Stanley said Titan is four to five days behind schedule due to the volume of calls.