Commission grapples with tough flood issues

By Geoff Samuels
Big ideas for solving big problems emerged at Monday mornings’ Flood Commission meeting, but along with them came the stark reality of today’s severe funding limitations. With two major hurricanes having hit the Northeast within a little more than a year’s span, a new sense of urgency could be felt.

Present at the meeting were Middletown Supervisor Marge Miller, Middletown Code Enforcement Officer Patrick Davis, Fleischmanns Mayor Todd Pascarella, Town of Halcott Supervisor Innes Kasanof, and members of the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Delaware County Planning Department, and the Village of Margaretville Board of Trustees.
A representative from the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) was also slated to attend but couldn’t because of his involvement with New York City’s ongoing recovery process from superstorm Sandy.

Last February the villages of Fleischmanns and Margaretville, as well as the Town of Middletown (along with 10 other flood damaged localities) were awarded approximately $50,000 each by New York State to aid in their efforts to recover from last year’s Hurricane Irene.

As the meeting began, Supervisor Marge Miller started the ball rolling by offering up the idea of using some of that money for acquiring a geographic information system (GIS) survey. This survey, she said, could help in establishing a location for a new affordable housing project, and could also find a place outside the flood plain for the eventual relocation of the disaster prone Arkville trailer park.

Rick Weidenbach, executive director of Delaware County Soil and Water replied, “I think that’s a wonderful idea that you guys are looking at low income housing and getting them (the trailer park) out of the flood plain….the community needs that.”

Code Enforcement Officer Pat Davis then remarked, “When you’re talking about relocating a trailer park, in all reality, we probably only have two or three properties that are available.”
Davis also noted that these properties must already be on the town sewer and water system before any funding can be received.

Weidenbach and Davis then dove into a discussion of the many “nuts and bolts” issues that need to be addressed before the city or state will dole out any funds. Weidenbach spoke about his strategy to have an initial engineering study performed that would delineate which structures should be relocated outside the floodplain, adding that this type of study would open the door to funds from the city. He went on to say that the area from the top of Margaretville’s playing field (Binnekill stream bulkhead) westward to just below the McIntosh Market could become a pilot project, which might serve as a model for the bigger one intended for a much larger area.

“We might be able complete a small study like this in a few months,” he added, noting that new flood related data from FEMA should be released by mid-December.

Davis continued the dialog introducing his idea of swapping properties with New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This would be done in order to establish new areas outside the flood plain for the relocation of dwellings or businesses. Again, he emphasized that all planning would have to be complete before funding could become available. “We are a very, very small voice in the state,” he said, “so we’ve really got to shine as hard as possible just to be recognized…we need to take all the steps we can right now…to put ourselves in the best position we can to get future funding.”

Supervisor Miller added to an already energetic conversation remarking that the Town of Walton, which she said was in the third or fourth year of its own flood mitigation program, has managed to purchase a number of properties during that time in order to remove them from the floodplain.

“We’re only in our seventh, eighth or ninth month here,” she said, “so we’ll get there,” adding that anytime we apply for any funding applications in the future, “maybe we’ll have some more leverage, because we’ve done this stuff now.”

At this juncture Dave Budin, owner of Del Sports and a trustee on the Village Board of Margaretville, introduced a slightly different point of view. Budin’s ideas involve things like annexing part of the Route 28 corridor to create an “enterprise zone” which would be tax-free for a number of years with the hope of encouraging businesses to re-locate there. Once the businesses were out of the floodplain he said, the area from where the carwash now stands all the way down to the police barracks could be “flattened out”. Budin feels that this would alleviate much of the flooding problems in the main part of town adding, “Normally, you wouldn’t want to push your problems downstream…but here, you’ve got a beautiful situation…there’s really nothing down there.”

Davis jumped back into the fray citing one complication that Budin’s idea might create. If the village were to increase its tax base, he said, than the town’s tax base would decrease, which is something that they wouldn’t want. Maybe having the village un-incorporate and become part of the Town of Middletown would be a better solution, he said. “These are some of the ugly, nasty choices that we’re gonna be looking at in the future, whether we like it or not…and we’re not on the coast, we’re not New Jersey, we’re not Manhattan or Brooklyn…we’re in a narrow little valley that’s constricted and we’ve built it out…and you know what the answer is,” he exclaimed, “stop building it out and remove what’s there.”
Supervisor Miller summed up the situation saying, “The idea is to plan and prioritize…we need to show that we have a plan for revitalization and flood mitigation that is positive…I personally believe, having grown up in Margaretville and New Kingston, that Margaretville’s Main Street can’t survive too many more major events.. with Freshtown there. My feeling is,” she added, “we can be positive about this and do the right thing, and actually make people feel safe about living in this community.”