2016-08-03 / Front Page

Ulster County removes Esopus Creek flood threat

Debris was removed from stream banks in flood prep project
By Jay Braman Jr.

Using the philosophy of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, workers from the Ulster County Soil and Water Conservation District went into the Esopus Creek floodway recently and removed tons of debris that was expected to wash downstream during the next flood.

The debris, made up mostly of entire trees that piled up in the creek during Hurricane Irene, became known as “a strainer” last year after 14-year-old Jordyn Engler, of Ellington, CT, drowned when swift currents forced the teen into the deadly mass while she was tubing.

Engler died in early September, and by the end of the month, the threat of Hurricane Joaquin heading to town sent shivers through most in town that still had memories of Irene fresh in their minds.

As most already know, Hurricane Joaquin made a right hand turn out into the Atlantic Ocean instead of touching base on the American shoreline, but before that path was made clear, governments up and down the eastern seaboard, now well practiced in the art of precaution, thanks to past catastrophes like Irene, were taking no chances.

Being proactive

One move made by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was to put the New York National Guard to work clearing debris and other barriers in roads and waterways ahead of the storm.

That is why, just three days before Joaquin’s expected landfall, there were large camouflaged trucks and soldiers at the location of the Esopus Creek fatality. The Guard, with the blessing of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, went into the stream near the Shandaken Rural Cemetery with large excavating equipment and removed the debris that claimed the life of Engler.

The job, however, was fast and dirty. With an emergency goal of getting the strainer out of the water, the Guard put the material in large piles just a stone’s throw from the water’s edge.

County efforts

At the request of the Ulster County Legislature, representatives of Ulster County Soil and Water Conservation District inspected the site last year on October 8 and concluded that the debris that had been removed was in danger of washing back into the creek.

Soil and Water suggested working with the state DEC to secure permission to remove the debris from the bank of the Esopus Creek permanently. The Ulster County Legislature approved funding for the work in the 2016 county budget.

On Friday Ken Ronk, chairman of the Ulster County Legislature, announced that the job is now done. Ronk said it was Shandaken’s Legislative representative John Parete that brought the matter forward hoping to prevent a repeat catastrophe.

Safety first

“First responders risked their lives trying to reach her,” Parete said, recalling the Engler tragedy. “Sadly this is not the first life lost to this hazard. It was a situation that could not be ignored. Some of these trees were as big as a truck. If they washed back down stream they would recreate the strainer and further jeopardize life and limb.”

Rothe Lumber Corp of Saugerties was contracted to grind the debris up and reseed the area to help reduce erosion.

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