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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 25, 2008

A culvert operation: Beebe Road residents say county should fix flooding

By Zach Simeone

KNOX — A culvert pipe on Beebe Road is flooding properties along the street. Town and county officials say there is nothing they can do, but residents disagree, saying the county created the problem.

Heavy rainfall leaves the properties of Joe Neil and William Parsons flooded with up to three feet of water. “It flows from across the street and empties onto my property,” said Neil, who lives on Beebe Road. “See, we had those heavy rains in June, and that just washed the road out. There’s really no place for the water to go,” he said.

“It’s been like this since 1989,” said Parsons, who lives across the street from Neil. He says the 30-inch culvert going under the road has always been inadequate. He has videotapes dating back to 1990 that show his family trudging through the pond that was once their front lawn. In one video, Parsons’s oldest son walks to the mailbox in flip-flops and a bathing suit. The driveway is nowhere to be found.

“I’ve tried and tried to get them to replace it and put a second one next to it,” Parsons said of the culvert. “If they did that, I think that would eliminate at least 80 percent of the problem. You don’t have to be an engineer to see that there isn’t enough room for the water to go under the road.”

“In the winter, it’s like an ice-skating rink,” Neil said of his and Parsons’s land. “And the spring thaw is unbelievable.”

“Can you imagine driving on that in the winter?” Parsons asked. “Somebody’s going to get killed out there.”

Parsons estimates that he spent $2,500 on landscaping for his yard this year. “And it’s all gone,” Parsons said. “Every year, we have to put new stone in and redo our yards.” He doesn’t feel like he’s asking for much. “I even offered to pay for [a] second culvert to be put in the road, and they still haven’t done it,” he said.

The town of Colonie recently came under fire when its highway department did work for a private sportsmen’s club; officials have compared this to the problem in Knox, saying that they can’t use public equipment to solve a private problem.

Neil and Parsons say that their situation is different, since the problem is caused by a public drainage system, not a private one.

Frequent flooding

Beebe Road, which runs between the homes of Neil and Parsons, is raised about six inches above the edge of each property. The pipe in question opens up to Neil’s property on one side of the road; the other end opens up to Parsons’s front yard.

During a heavy downpour, water floods Parsons’s property, flows through the culvert under the road, and into an outlet on Neil’s property, next to his house, where it builds up. After a certain amount of water has accumulated there, it stops draining from Parsons’s property, floods above the road, and begins to accumulate on Neil’s property.

At this point, both properties are flooded, and the water continues to accumulate until the rainfall stops. The pipe, they say, is not big enough to hold the heavy flow of water produced by these storms, and the outlet next to Neil’s house needs to be dug out to let the water flow into the woods behind his home.

“You’re talking about [several] feet of water in our yards, since it goes a foot above the road,” Parsons said. “That storm we had a month ago — they were rebuilding the road, and this water just took the equipment right down the creek,” he said. “School buses won’t even come down the road.”

“Over the years,” Parsons said, “I’ve been through I don’t know how many supervisors at Albany County. I brought them pictures, and I’ve been to the town. They have to send it to Albany County because that’s who makes the decisions. We’ve just constantly done this for all these years; I mean, they see it, and they say it’s a wetland, but it’s not.”

No help

Neil invited Knox Supervisor Mike Hammond to his home to see the flooding for himself. “He agrees — there’s really no place for the water to go,” Neil said. Hammond was unavailable for comment.

Hammond put Neil into contact with Albany County Legislator Alexander “Sandy” Gordon, who agreed that something needed to done, Neil said.

“[Gordon] spoke with the head of transportation for Albany County, and he says they can’t bring their equipment onto private property,” said Neil. “Sandy Gordon tells me that it’s federal wetland,” he said.

“[Neil] was looking for us to go on private property with public equipment to make the drainage work better there,” Gordon said, “and there’s just no way we can do that. We’ll do what work we can within our right-of-way, and that’s all we can do.”

Neil eventually met with Robert Delaney, building inspector of Knox. “He pulled out the federal wetland maps, and there’re no federal wetlands around here,” said Neil. “He said it’s the most recent map.”

Delaney concurred. “According to the maps that I have, it does not show it as being a federal wetland,” Delaney said. “I sent them over to the county because it’s a county road, and they may have more detailed maps than I have.”

County perspective

Michael Franchini, commissioner of the Albany County Department of Public Works, says that the residents’ perception of the pipe causing the flooding is skewed.

“That culvert is not the cause of the problem,” said Franchini. “There’s flash flooding, the area’s very flat, there are federal wetlands, and there’s a creek,” he said. “I’ve been told the creek is pretty close to their house. If you live near a creek, you’re subject to flooding.” Parsons and Neil say that they were never warned of potential flooding when they purchased their homes.

On the issue of wetlands, Franchini’s maps tell a different story than Delaney’s. It’s a “complicated issue,” Franchini said. “There are federal wetlands designated on the east side of the road, so that’s one issue. I know that we have the latest maps,” he added. These maps show federal wetlands behind Neil’s home. Neil and Parsons are frustrated by the conflicting information from the town and county.

“Bob Delaney’s maps say it’s not federal wetlands,” Neil said. “And, even if it is wetlands behind my house, then add a second culvert, and dig a channel so the water can flow through to the woods behind my house. It’s all woods back there, and if it’s wetlands, it can’t hurt it, right? Why not let the water go to the wetlands?”

Franchini says that dealing with federal wetlands is a very delicate situation. “You can’t drain water from them and you can’t add water to them,” he said.

Franchini went on, “When you change drainage, you may improve the drainage for one property owner, but not for the other. So, you can’t just open up culverts and not look at what the impacts would be upstream or downstream of that culvert — not that simple,” said Franchini. “We have engineers who examine the impacts of changing the drainage. It can leave you open for lawsuits if you change the drainage and cause damage to other properties.”

Neil questions this. “I don’t see how that could happen, I got to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s all woods behind my house for a good half-a-mile. So clear out the brush and trees for about the length of a football field and let the water flow back there,” Neil said.

Gordon thinks that the problem stems from the original planning for the road. “I think that perhaps when subdivisions were approved, that people were [not] very cautious with how they looked at the area — the slope of the area, the ability of the area to drain water away when they looked at it,” he said. “To me, that’s a planning issue.”

Looking ahead

Ketco, Inc. is currently undertaking a county project that will completely rebuild Beebe Road.

“Beebe Road is a reconstruction project over the entire length of the road,” Franchini said, “from County Road 252 all the way to the intersection of County Road 255, which is Gallupville Road.” The project started in the summer, and should be completed within the next few weeks, he said.

County-road projects are designed in-house by the county’s own engineering staff. This project, Franchini said, involved full-depth reconstruction. “Projects like this usually involve installing a new guide rail, new traffic signs,” he said.

“The crew that was working there on the road was making sure everything was functioning,” Gordon said. “It looked like there was some fieldstone that was at the edge of the right-of-way.”

The stones, he said, were blocking drainage, which only aided the flooding. “It looked like the contractor did everything he could to make it as amenable for flow of water in the right-of-way as possible. Beyond that, there’s not much we can do,” he said.

Parsons said he has no idea what to do next. “I just hope they come up and put the new culvert in,” he said.

“I’m not sure where to go from here,” Neil said. “I could get an attorney and file a claim, but then I got to come up with a retainer and pay money for something I didn’t create and have no control over.” He bought the house with his life savings, he said.

The county told Parsons that it was in the process of a watershed analysis, upstream of the culvert pipe in front of his property. A watershed is a piece of land from where rain or snowmelt drains into a nearby body of water.

“We have an engineer calculating the size of the watershed to determine what is the correct size for that culvert,” Franchini said. “Once that’s done, we’ll see if that culvert needs to be changed.” But, he said, after the watershed analysis, the county may determine that the culvert does not need to be changed.

“There certainly are issues when it comes to using public resources for private property,” said Franchini, “but if you create damage to your neighbor’s property, you become liable for that damage. I would not advise anyone to haphazardly open channels and possibly damage other people’s property. And there are regulations regarding streambeds and wetlands. If you’re not aware of those, you could be liable for fines,” he said.

“Were going to study the watershed and figure out what the usual flows of water are,” Franchini concluded. “That’s all we’ve promised.”

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