Hurricane Irene Aftermath: One year later, one year beyond

By Middletown Supervisor
Marjorie Miller
Of course it – August 28, 2011 - was a long, horrible day and for many weeks the days that followed it were not much easier. High and dry or not, the community was in distress, many flashing back to devastating losses suffered in the ’96 flood.

Once the first bursts of adrenalin were over and done, we were left with all of what is required when making inroads on the long-term recovery and short term everything else. Long term: plan for the next disaster including how to get our most vulnerable citizens off the flood plain. Short term: find housing as well as ‘get-the-muck-out’ volunteers for those who were displaced or whose businesses were damaged, not to mention fix the roads and get the lights back on.

Protection projects
Long term: pinpoint mitigation projects that emphasize protection of residences and businesses, reclaiming the flood plain, while making smart choices about our collective future. Short term: try but fail to sleep, cut up spuds and carrots at the local fire department, fill pill bottles and pray for those who lost everything or almost everything, write a check, pray once more this never happens again, buy a few pry-bars. Long term: coordinate disaster recovery plans that take into account our volunteer needs and must-haves as well as how to reach all of those who do not use the Internet or have access to info because during times of trouble communication, communication and more communication is key.

And get back to normal, even if it’s a new-normal we don’t know how to fully understand or accept, a new normal wherein what was ‘before’ is not quite what is ‘now’ every single day from here on out: After Irene. Yet - we have no other choice. Yet - we are tough - we are resilient - we know how to recover.

The East Branch Flood Commission, modeled on one formed in Walton after the 2006 flooding there, proactively seeks both long and short-term solutions to our flooding problem, although problem is too small a word. Whether we dredge or not, and I have come to believe it does not and cannot work (did you know we had a drought locally for much of the 50s and 60s; I didn’t – and that’s why many of our childhoods were happily flood-free), for when we get over 14 inches of rain – or see the equivalent in snow melt - in less than six or 10 or however many or few hours in any part of the East Branch Watershed, we will flood. How we respond to repeat flooding is up to us; how we prepare is up to us; how we plan, long and short-term, for lessened damage, is up to us. How we continue to grow and thrive as a community and region is up to us.

Community event
On August 30 the East Branch Flood Commission will be holding an Irene Remembrance – an Ice Cream Social and Community Picnic - beginning at 5 p.m. at Margaretville Central School.

And, we need you to be there. We need you - you being all of you, the community, the us of we and our neighbors, full-time and part-time residents, business owners, retirees, volunteers, kids of all ages, ‘older and wisenheimers’ - you name it: we need you. We need you because the conversation about where we go from here cannot, must not, continue without your input, your needs, your hopes and fears and wishes because we’re all in this together, this being the good, the bad, the ugly, the daily grind as well as the daily sublime.

Come out on the 30th of August and let us know what you’re thinking, what you need and what you think the community needs. Come out on the 30th and meet your neighbors and thank a few of the volunteers and full-time (and over-time) workers who helped dig us out or held the traffic in check. Come out and learn about stream dynamics and what FEMA’s Community Ratings System (CRS) – into which Middletown is going, including the villages of Fleischmanns and Margaretville - means for us all and come out to learn something, ask a few questions and get a few answers and come out, please, to donate or volunteer as we continue to address our ongoing and anticipated future needs.

Do your part
Find out on the 30th how you can contribute right now to the effort we are making to plan for our future, right here, together. Come out and help us create a ‘Good Neighbor Core’ – willing folks who will make a commitment to be there for their immediate neighbors and neighborhood whatever challenges we collectively face, thanks to our temperamental friend, Mother Nature.

I began my term as Middletown Supervisor after Irene and the first months of recovery. Coming into the job, given the circumstances, was like jumping headfirst into a snake pit. There was so much to be done and determined regarding the recovery process – there still is. And then there’s getting used to the slow moving nature of government (it’s built solidly into the system) when people are, when the community is, in need right now. The challenges have been immense and – given the depth and resilience of the community I love – full of potential, laden with possibility. The good news: we have – and will be talking about on the 30th – 21 stream bank repair projects slated for execution this fall and in 2013.

Planning underway
Good news: the Flood Commission is creating a regional plan (14.4 inches of rain in Halcott or Hardenbugh ends up in Fleischmanns, Clovesville, Arkville and Margaretville, after all – ditto Roxbury into Halcottsville) for coordinated projects including funding, emergency response efforts and the nuts and bolts of what we need before, during and after disaster strikes. Good news: we already have identified team leaders for many of our ‘Good Neighbor Core’ groups. Join them.

And, given the work of our full-time flood plain manager and CRS coordinator, we’re on our way to making better choices about living in a flood-prone zone, one step and one day at a time. Come out on the 30th of August at 5 p.m., have a hot dog or ice cream sundae – or both! – and, at 6 p.m., hear a little about what’s in the works to keep our community safer, make us stronger and build on all of our many positives and volunteer, if you can, or bring your checkbook to donate or sign-up to give a few shovels or work-gloves to our preparedness project.

Both the M-ARK Project and Interfaith Council will be reporting on how much they took in after Irene and where it went; both will be taking donations toward the needs that still exist, and there are many, or that we have identified as vital in getting us ready for another bad day. Bad moments and days happen, how we respond – is up to all of us.

Center moving ahead
And more good news, unrelated to Irene: a longtime talked about and anticipated world-class recreation center for the town and region (I think a few folks from Shandaken and Roxbury, Andes and Bovina, might just come here for a swim, or a skate, don’t you?) is moving forward. Resolutions supporting the center have been passed and filed by the towns of Middletown, Roxbury, Halcott Center and Hardenburgh and the villages of Fleischmanns and Margaretville as well as the administrations and boards of MCS and RCS.

We all want this to happen and, with regional support and the generosity of a local benefactor, it will. A similar project in the further upstate Town of Skaneateles (pop. 5,000) built by the same company has been very successful, providing 12 full-time and 90 part-time jobs...think for a moment about that one, folks. It’s economic development. We need that. And we need more amenities in this area, don’t we? ‘If you build it, he will come’ – well, they will come and I know like I know like I know that they will. And more good news still: despite the challenges of learning to work slowly, within the governmental framework during a high intensity time of recovery – I love the job. Phew!
Thanks, by the way, in no small part to the stellar full-time staff at town hall, our talented as all get out Highway Superintendent and Best in Delaware County Highway Crew (I may be slightly prejudiced), to identify but a few of those who spend their days making things work – and work well - around here.

See you on the 30th – 5 p.m. for ’dogs and ’cream and 6 p.m. for a Remembrance including the Community Chorale singing ‘Hurricane Blues’ written by one of our local heroines and Irene volunteer coordinators, Vicki Quesada. Don’t miss it. The East Branch Flood Commission wants (and needs) you! Please join the recovery and ‘where we go next’ conversation, of which your contribution can, and will, be an essential part.