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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 15, 2011

What is the price of disaster?

By Zach Simeone

HILLTOWNS — Slowly but surely, towns are getting an idea of how much this disaster will cost.

On the road to recovery from Tropical Storm Irene, local municipalities met for a “kickoff meeting” on Monday, and filed their paperwork with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin the process for acquiring aid after the president’s disaster declaration two weeks ago.

“The way it’s looking now,” said Gary Salisbury, highway superintendent of Knox, “is that FEMA is going to pay 75 percent, and the state is saying they’re going to kick in 12.5 percent. Normally, the state would do 25, but the state is saying 12.5.” He expects more information in the coming week.

Salisbury is particularly concerned with Line Road.

“It appears that whole hill is sinking down, and possibly heading towards the creek,” Salisbury said. “The road is actually cracking right in the center of the road, and you can see it, day by day. Because of where the bank is, you can see where it’s moving from the crack in the road. When I was driving down the road, I saw the tops of the trees are pointing uphill.”

Berne Councilman Joseph Golden said of his dealings with FEMA, “I will say, after being at that meeting, it’s a process — but it’s a highly organized process. The county and the state have people that I think are pretty serious about representing our interests.”

He concluded, “You know the saying about eating an elephant? One bite at a time. This is the elephant that we’re starting to nibble on, and we have to get through this thing in order to get the money.”


Rensselaerville, last week, put together estimates for these expenses, which could total between $575,000 and $880,000, according to the acting highway superintendent, David Potter:

— For repairs in Preston Hollow and Cooksburgh, the town will likely have to spend between $225,000 and $500,000;

— For the Preston Hollow Park, $100,000;

— For “stream protection” at the Catskill Creek, $45,000 to $75,000; and

— For road repairs throughout town, $205,000.

Said Potter of the last figure, “That’s for rip rap and emergency rebuilding, when the expensive stuff would go in.”

At a special meeting on Sept. 8, Albany County’s emergency medical services coordinator, Brian Wood, gave the town board some feedback on how Rensselaerville handled Irene.

“This community helped itself,” said Wood, commending the town. “There were two 9-1-1 calls the entire time of [Tropical Storm] Irene, that 24-hour period on Sunday. Communities in other places, such as Berne, or Westerlo, Knox, New Scotland, had hundreds. We had two. The fire departments didn’t panic on the radio; they did what had to be done.”

Wood went on, “I appreciate the compliments of overseeing this thing, but it really comes back to the people, most importantly, the fire and EMS guys, and the neighbors in the town just helping out. The town board was great, we all worked together, it was a great team effort. Something had to be done, and we put everything else aside and just went at it.”

South Street in Medusa, Wood said, was made worse by last Wednesday’s additional rainfall.

“We have a home that is in danger of going into the creek,” Wood said. “I don’t know that it’s immediately dangerous, but, if we have one more flood, it could be a real problem.”

Potter also provided an update for the board on the ongoing repairs after Irene, and what effect the additional rainfall last week had.

“We’ve stabilized the sewer pipe down on Bennett Lane fairly well,” Potter said. “We put several loads of shale on it and compacted it.”

The board, Potter, and Wood also discussed the possible creation of a long-term policy allowing capable town residents, during a disaster, to volunteer to operate town equipment, if necessary. The town’s attorney, Joseph Catalano, would have to look into the liability involved, board members said.

Also at the meeting, Wood gave the board an “after-action report,” which listed the areas in which the town excelled during Irene, and the areas in which it needed improvement.

Among the strengths listed were the level of cooperation among town residents, as well as between the town and the county; and the “outstanding” work by the town highway department, local firefighters, and EMS workers.

The report goes on to list the following necessary improvements:

— Cell phone coverage in Preston Hollow;

— Auxiliary power at Town Hall, as it is the “most logical place for an emergency operation center”;

— The development of a comprehensive emergency plan;

— During an emergency declaration, representatives from town departments and districts should be required to report to the emergency operation center until relieved by the town supervisor or other superior present;

— The creation of an incident management team to track the status of the emergency; and

— More incident management training for fire district, EMS, and town leaders.


Salisbury said this week that he was unsure at this point what the town would end up having to spend on repairs.

“I’m still just getting things back together where everyone can drive for now,” Salisbury said Wednesday. “We have some fairly major things to do yet, and I haven’t even started them: real serious washouts and removing stuff from creeks to get them back to where they were.”

Fortunately, he said, many of the roads that are in the worst condition are dead ends, with one major exception.

“I have one road closed, which is Line Road, between 443 and Shell Road,” Salisbury said. “The whole bank, which is pretty big, is definitely moving every day,” he said, referring to the hill that runs from the side of the road, down to the stream nearly 300 feet from the road.

“Until we get some engineers out there, I’m not sure what we’re going to do with that,” he said. “There are no houses in between; there are houses on the end, and they can get out just fine.”

He hopes FEMA will assist in planning the best course of action for dealing with Line Road.


Berne Highway Superintendent Kenneth Weaver came to Wednesday’s town board meeting with good news.

“The Kaehler Lane Bridge is now open,” he told the board. “It still needs blacktop, and I still need to get rubble for the sides and the edges of it, but it is open to traffic and it’s safe.”

He, like other Hilltowners, commended his town board and highway workers for a job well done after the storm.

The bridge in South Berne still needs work, however, and the nearby culvert is “no longer safe,” he said.

“We all know baskets will no longer function in this type of situation,” Weaver said. “We’re deciding whether or not we’ll be able to use baskets and floats, or pour cement; there are a few different options we are discussing.”

After the meeting, Weaver went into a bit more detail: “Along the stream, years ago, we used metal baskets, and they wire them together, and they fill them with rubble to support a bank,” he said, pointing towards the nearby Fox Creek. “Many years ago, I wanted to cement those, but it was a lot of money, so we didn’t. Well, the water got behind these things, because it can flow through them. Once it took the back off, and took the rubble out from behind them, they just collapsed; they didn’t hold anything.”

Now, he said, the town will look into replacing them with cemented baskets, or building a concrete wall.

During his discussion with the town board, Weaver mentioned, as he had last week, that the highway department is still repairing the many road shoulders that were badly damaged, “Let alone these bigger jobs that are beyond fixing in a day,” he said. “But it’s all in the up and coming…and FEMA’s got to be involved, so it’s not something I can just do and get it over with.”

On the bright side, Weaver said that the highway department, prior to the flooding, was stocked with materials that came in handy in the repairs that followed the storm.

“I did use an awful lot of rubble and material from the shop, which I’m going to have to replace,” he said. “It’s nice to have these stockpiles when things like this take place. I’ve got to say, if they weren’t there, things might have been a lot different…I’d like to attempt to stockpile more back there and have it for, God forbid, the next time.”

Stories from the flood were interspersed throughout the discussion of the cleanup.

“Next time we have a flood, who the heck knows which way the water’s going to run?” asked Supervisor George Gebe. “I was standing in one spot talking to someone when the garage went in, and when that plugged that bridge for a few minutes, the water jumped, what, 30 or 40 feet?”


Westerlo Highway Superintendent John Nevins said that Callanan Industries provided an estimate for the damage to Lobdell Mill Road and Tan Hollow Road; repairs to the two locations could total close to $1.5 million, Nevins told the board. The dirt roads on the northern end of Lake Onderdonk also sustained heavy damage, he said.

Resident Anita Marrone, who lives on Tan Hollow Road, stood up at last week’s town board meeting and publicly thanked Nevins and his crew for their work.

“He has gone above and beyond what any group or person could ever do,” she said. “He was our lifeline connection to safety.”

Her street sustained some of the heaviest damage during the storm, and she told the crowd a story of the highway department coming to her neighbors’ aid.

“He had to come down this back hill where this creek became like a raging river,” she said. “Trees falling like toothpicks, and guardrails whipping like wet noodles. He came down the back hill, blocked by trees, and a tree came down in back of his truck, putting his life on the line.”

One of her neighbors was shaking, cold and scared after it took her nearly an hour and a half to get home, Marrone said.

“She had to switch legs to use her gas pedal; her wipers were dying,” Marrone went on. “She came down that hill, and Mr. Nevins was there. He put his arm around her, he supported her, almost carrying her to safety. He and his crew were exposed to live wires…Central Hudson had turned on the power while they were down into the ground, covered with macadam, floating in the creek waters. He and his crew were on the road the entire time.”

In what became a trend this week at Hilltown board meetings, the crowd erupted with applause.

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