Much of the recent talk about public infrastructure upgrades has focused on roads and bridges, sewer and water systems. But what about moving entire communities out of the way of reoccurring flood waters?
Last month, the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), based in the Delaware County town of Margaretville, announced that its board had authorized $100,000 in funding to start planning for a move of its own headquarters to higher ground, as well as a $20,000 grant “to allow The Town of Lexington to explore options for relocating a portion of the hamlet of Lexington out of the flood plain.”
Could this be a new prototype for the entire New York City watershed region, which was hard hit by major floods in 1987, 1996 and 2011, and lesser high water events in many other years? And might the community of Boiceville, in Olive, be in standing for such consideration?
“The Lexington grant, from our new Sustainable Communities program, is a first and it could be a prototype,” said CWC public information officer Diane Galusha this week. “Olive has submitted an application for Boiceville but hasn’t completed its Local Flood Analysis paperwork yet.”
She added that the CWC was expecting to look back into the Olive proposal next Spring.
Olive town supervisor Sylvia Rozzelle said on December 7 that a first major draft of the requested LFA for the new Sustainable Communities program was completed in early November, and discussed during a meeting with regional flood advisory representatives from various agencies, several town board members, and the town’s consultants from White Engineering on November 29.
“Several plans were talked over and three landed upon,” she noted.
One of those would involve the potential building of a 1400-foot long earthen berm running up from the junction of routes 28 and 28A to the site of the former sawmill across from the Onteora schools campus, that would necessitate the taking of two existing buildings (Stucki Emroidery and Ronson Piano Hammer). The other two would involve relocation of several of the Boiceville flood zone’s 18 structures (on 25 affected parcels) using New York City buyout funds.
Rozzelle said that driving discussions were considerations involving the rising cost of insurance in flood plains, making any structural repairs or upgrades, as well as business sales, prohibitively expensive; the overall tax base size of the affected parcels ($5.9 million total), as well as the ages of those running some of the local businesses. Options discussed to date have ranged from possible use of the vacant Singer-Denman building as a relocation site, possible moves up the 28 corridor towards where Bread Alone is, and whether there’s even feasibility and funding for the berm alternative.
“We definitely need to relocate the firehouse, which is on property that’s been leased from New York City since the 1950s,” Rozzelle added, emphasizing that the fire company is not town operated. “Whether the people and businesses want to relocate or not is different issue; I don’t know where that’s going to go. But we do need to put these issues on the table.”
According to the Catskill Watershed Corporation, the Lexington Hamlet Revitalization Project will provide community residents and businesses “an opportunity to share their vision for the future of the hamlet, which was badly damaged by flooding in 2011.” Their town LFA completed in May identified several flood mitigation measures that included possible relocation of flood prone structures which may be eligible for FEMA or NYC Watershed buyout programs.
The new $20,000 envisioning project, coming out of a $150,000 Sustainible Communities program fund, will be conducted by River Street Planning of Troy, PLACE Alliance New York of Schenectady and New England Environmental and involve community envisioning sessions and exploration of possible zoning changes to facilitate relocations.
The $100,000 CWC headquarters relocation pays for a contract with Keystone Associates of Binghamton to provide architectural, engineering and space planning services for a proposed building on higher ground in nearby Arkville to be shared with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and a long-proposed Catskills-oriented Water Discovery Center exhibit area.
Galusha separately forwarded information on the nearly $50 million that has been made available, and much of it spent, for flood mitigation purposes in the Catskills and surrounding New York City watershed areas, as well as further funding from the state’s New York Rising Reconstruction Program, set up to deal with mitigation of damage from hurricanes Irene, Lee and Sandy in 2011 and 2012. She noted that the CWC’s Local Flood Analysis requirements were unfortunately not completely in line with NY Rising analyses, which Olive spent recent years completing.
But Rozzelle said that the different requirements were no problem, given that Olive ended up focusing each analysis, and funding, towards different flood mitigation needs in the mountainous and stream-rich town.