Flood commission plans for storm events

By Geoff Samuels
Thursday night’s well attended Middletown Flood Commission meeting took place under the ominous threat of Hurricane “Sandy” bearing down on the Northeast by Monday night. Middletown Supervisor Marge Miller announced that 586-1115 had been established as an emergency number and that infor­mation could also be found under the “emergency tab” on the Middletown website (http://middletowndelaware countyny.org/). During the meeting it was further determined that in the event the storm were to hit, shelter could be found at; the Methodist Church and the Advent Chris­tian Church in Margaret­ville; the fire department in Ark­ville for the first 24 to 72 hours (then moving to Belleayre); and either the Fleisch­manns Community Church, or the Fleischmanns Fire De­partment.

Middletown Code Enforce­ment Officer Pat Davis began the meeting by explaining that due to the increasing frequency of flood related events, the new FEMA flood maps (which will be publish­ed in May of 2013) would show an increase in the size of the flood plain. According to Davis, this was done to alleviate the fact that the so-called “100-year flood” is now occurring more often than every 100 years.

The result of larger flood plain is that structures that were formerly outside the flood plain will now be in the flood plain. Referring to the $400 million that is now being allotted for flood map­ping by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Davis said, “This is the first time that flood plain mapping has been specifically includ­ed as a congressional authorization, we are not the only ones experiencing this ... this is being done to many munic­ipalities throughout the country.”

Mike Jestremski of the Delaware County Planning Department went on to say that for the past 30 years, the NFIP had been solvent. How­ever, since 2005 and hurricanes Katrina and Rita, they have accumulated about $18 billion of debt. With the adop­tion of new flood plain boundaries, not only will more properties need flood insurance, but also the insur­ance rates themselves will be going up. These rate hikes will eventually eliminate that $18 billion deficit and establish a surplus fund as well. “The upshot is” said Jestremski, “Flood insurance is going to increase all over the country,” with Davis add­ing, “It’s a double whammy guys, this is what we’re getting.”

Davis went on to discuss FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS) which allows communities to build up “points” according to how much effort they have spent on flood mitigation. The rating system goes from one to 10, with 10 being the highest.

Davis said the highest score in all of New York State is a seven with local municipalities coming in between four and five.

Both Davis and Jestremski were adamant that given the various flood mitigation pro­jects in progress and the work they are doing to document these efforts for the CRS, local communities should be able to achieve an eight on the point scale which in turn should “mitigate” some of the insurance hikes coming our way.

Executive Director Rick Wiedenbach of Delaware County Soil & Water then spoke about the work he and his organization is doing with New York City on Local Flood Hazard Mitigation An­alysis (LFHMA), which is a way of scientifically determining how much the wid­ening of a flood plain will actually affect the level of flood waters. According to Wiedenbach, there is a multi-agency group effort being made to come up with, over the next three months, a standardized method of mak­ing these determinations in any community. This will allow the city to put aside a certain amount of money through its’ Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) for flood hazard mitigation throughout the watershed. “I’ve been with the organization for 32 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this … we’re talking about some meaningful flood mitigation,” Wiedenbach said adding, “If the Village of Fleischmanns fire house is being flooded every 10 years with 3.2 feet of water and it’s now down to an inch… that’s big medicine.”

The conversation then turn­­ed to the Freshtown build­ing, and how Flood Miti­ga­tion Analysis could determine how much the flood waters would be lowered if that building or others were removed, and what the ramifications would be for the village. Wiedenbach emphasized that solving problems of this magnitude require commitment, patience, and time. “You’ve got to find some place for these folks to go; you just don’t pluck them out of the community and ruin the villages’ economic sustainability” he said.

Davis read the official report on the upcoming hurricane, which gave a high probability of the storm having at least some effect on us. The report said, “It is too early to project accurate river flooding at this time … if we take a direct hit from this storm, we could be look­ing at major flooding events.” Davis said that he and Highway Superintendent John Biruk had met earlier and they both agreed that the biggest step they could take now was to deal with the “72 Hour Rule.” This rule stipulates that in a declared emergency, a non-contract­ed worker may be compensat­ed by FEMA for up to 72 hours of work by which time the job must have been opened up for bid. Biruk stated that they had already worked on some preliminary bid forms and that they would be ready early next week should the storm hit.