Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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NY: Groups criticize post-flood stream repairs

Keene Valley, N.Y. – Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc on
streams across eastern New York, but a number of conservation
groups were concerned that repair work done in the weeks after has
been causing more problems.

Trout Unlimited was among a coalition of 20 groups and citizens
that called on the governor’s office Sept. 27 to direct local
officials and the state Department of Transportation to halt work
on a number of Adirondack and Catskill trout streams.

The concern is that highway departments and private contractors
have needlessly altered streams while they had free rein in the
aftermath of late August flooding.

The biggest fears were for a number of streams in the Lake
Placid area, including the East Branch of the Ausable River and
Johns Brook.

Well-intentioned highway crews trying to repair flood damage
have instead “channelized” many streams, work that no only hurts
trout habitat but also increases the chances of future flooding,
said Dr. John Braico, president of the Adirondack Chapter of Trout
Unlimited.

TU joined with groups such as the Ausable River Association,
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Theodore Gordon
Flyfishers and Protect the Adirondacks! to call on the governor’s
office to direct the removal of “heavy dredging equipment” from
streams and halt “the re-engineering” of streams and river
sections.

“The work being done, well intended as it may be, is turning
several river and stream sections into stormwater dikes the likes
of which you might find in urbanized Los Angeles,” said Dan Plumley
of Adirondack Wild. “The natural features have been decimated, and
future floods will be made even worse because of it.”

Highway departments and the DOT were allowed to take action in
the wake of the horrific flooding brought by the tropical storm to
“address an imminent threat to life, health, property, the general
welfare and natural resources.”

But work that continued nearly a month after the storm on many
streams was more detrimental than helpful, critics claim.

Braico said the DEC issued post-flood work guidelines that “were
very acceptable and should have prevented this travesty,” but a
statement from the governor’s office “was widely interpreted as a
carte blanche to act precipitously without regard to DEC.”

Carol Treadwell, executive director of the Ausable River
Association, said crews from the town of Black Brook in Clinton
County “dredged” the main branch of the Ausable River in late
September.

“The highway guys are very well intended and trained in
maintaining roads and ditches but ditches are not rivers and rivers
are not ditches and should not be maintained as such,” she wrote in
an email.

Channelizing streams and rivers and removing boulders and
naturally occurring structure allows streams to run faster and
creates more flooding problems downstream during high water
conditions.

“These actions run counter to common sense, river dynamics,
effective flood control and sustainability of our environment on
which many of us depend for a living,” the groups wrote in a letter
to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

David Winchell, a spokesman for the DEC, said the agency was
working to address the groups’ concerns. The DEC said it would work
to repair damage.

“DEC has had teams of staff in the field since the first week in
September working with municipalities, county soil and water
conservation districts and the Army Corps of Engineers to assist
with the proper restoration of streams and rivers,” Winchell
said.

“DEC is working with localities to repair the damage in a way
that minimizes long-term harm to the environment. In most cases,
instead of an emergency authorization, DEC is issuing a general
permit with its protective requirements. DEC staff has also
inspected specific sections of streams if we receive a complaint.
DEC is currently reviewing the information gathered during the
inspections to determine next steps to minimize any potential for
long-term harm,” Winchell wrote in an email.

Similar concerns about questionable flooding repairs have been
raised in the neighboring states of Vermont and Pennsylvania, as
well.

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