Residents get a look at debris near creek

By HEATHER NELLIS

Recorder News Staff

TOWN OF FLORIDA -- For the dozens of people who attended Wednesday's public meeting on Montgomery County's debris assessment of the Schoharie Creek, the results weren't surprising for those who've been struggling with the junk for the last year-and-a-half.

But the Florida town hall was a venue for many to air concerns about what the flood has done to the terrain -- an opportunity that hasn't presented itself yet locally, they say.

It was also apparently intriguing to see the birds-eye view of engineering firm AECOM's findings. In addition to detailing the debris fields and areas that suffered erosion, some believed it offered hints where some of the debris came from.

While snapping pictures of the maps with their cell phones, people wondered if the uprooted trees on their land came from the nearby southern property across the snaking waterway while it was swollen during the flooding events caused by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in 2011.

"I'm certain those are my trees," said Marsha Aulisi, pointing to the orange-colored oblong tract that represented loose vegetation on a property kitty-corner to her own.

"When I sit on my land, all I see are loose trees," said Cathy Picciocca, who lives nearby.

Picciocca and many of her creekside neighbors have been picking up trees since the floodwater receded in September. Picciocca's used them, and debris from her neighbor's washed-up camp, to construct bridges and pathways so she can traverse the drastically-transformed landscape with her tractor.

The cleanup has dominated many of their lives since September 2011. That includes rebuilding their homes, and rehabilitating their farmland.

No one knows that more than Marty Navojosky, whose property at the end of Hughes Road is admittedly plagued with the most debris. It's stuck in the once-25 acre forest that lines his land. To boot, the forest acted as a sieve to filter more than 30,000 cubic acres of rocks that came to rest on the farmland.

On Wednesday, Navojosky said he's still working to find a revenue source of aid, and continues to haul away debris daily.

"I'm still working forward, but I have a long way to go," he said. "I'm hoping for some kind of assistance."

The county was awarded some grant funding to remove debris, but Department of Public Works Commissioner Paul Clayburn said the grant has to be specifically used in the region between the Mohawk River and Mill Point.

Crews have about one week left on the first site they're clearing at Newkirk Road. So far, Clayburn said they've removed 70 truckloads of logs, and 60 loads of stumps and other debris.

Though he has to review AECOM's soon-to-be-finished report, Clayburn hopes he will have enough funds to clean up another two to three sites. But with the availability of the assessment, Clayburn appeared confident the county would be able to use it to apply for more grants to get other sites cleaned up.

But those who live by the creek it's not just what the floods left behind -- it's what they took away, too.

Tony Posillico of Mill Point Lane expressed concerns about the sediment deposited in the creek channel behind his home.

He said he lost two acres of his property, and what used to be a 20-foot drop in the creekwater -- a fishing hole, swimming pool -- can now be ridden across by ATVs.

Now, he says it won't take a storm to flood that area, rather a simple rainfall, and he's concerned about what impact the spring thaw could have.

"The creek needs to be dredged," Posillico said. "I'm not an expert, but I live there, I see it every day."

Clayburn said though Posillico's concerns are valid, he checked it with the reality of what it took to even get the debris assessment study.

It was sparked by former county Emergency Management Director Dwight Schwabrow, who prompted federal and state Emergency Management offices with his concerns, and upon their rejection, compiled an aerial photographic record of the creek and its debris.

The record was used by county Senior Planner Doug Greene, who applied for state funding to pay for AECOM's assessment, and the aforementioned grant to clean up imminently dangerous debris sites between the Mohawk River and Mill Point.

"We are a million miles from where we were," Clayburn said. "I don't want to downplay your concern, but it isn't what this project is about."

Still, Clayburn encouraged all the attendees to detail their concerns in writing for Greene.

"Maybe it's something we can apply for in the future," Clayburn said.

It's likely unrelated issues were aired because the citizenry hadn't had another opportunity to vent their concerns in a forum that was specifically dedicated to flood-related discussions.

"This is the first meeting I've been to," said Aulisi. "Everything else I went to was in Schoharie County."

Aulisi said she attended those meetings to get information about the Gilboa Dam, and what caused the creek to flood the way it did.

"I don't believe it was all Mother Nature," she said. "Our farmland has been in the family for generations, and no one has ever heard of water coming across it. It's not in a flood plane, but there were areas where the water was four-to-five feet deep."