BY NICOLE ANTONUCCi
CANAJOHARIE -- Despite a small turnout at the New York Rising public engagement meeting Thursday, Montgomery County municipalities are making progress in identifying mitigation projects to improve resiliency against future storms.
The villages of Canajoharie and Fort Plain were the only municipalities represented at the meeting held at the Arkell Museum, Erie Boulevard, Canajoharie where residents and officials provided input on Montgomery County's NY Rising Community Reconstruction Plan.
"The idea is to bring communities together to use them as a way to identify what the highest needs are for making our county more resilient to future flooding," said Jaime Ethier, a representative from the New York Department of State's Office of Planning and Development.
The purpose of the meeting was to allow the public to help identify needs, opportunities, and proposed resiliency projects, strategies and actions for Montgomery County.
Tables were set up for each village and/or town and were identified by a place card as well as a blown up map placed in the center. A packet was also at each table that contained a list of 218 assets identified in the county. The assets were organized by municipality and categorized into classes -- economic, heath/social services, housing, and infrastructure..
"We are here tonight to finalize the assent inventory so we can analyze the risks to those assets," said Lisa Nagle, of Elan Planning and Design. "We also want to identify the needs and opportunites which are the foundation of identifying projects."
During a breakout session, members of the public were asked to review the asset list and identify on the map any assets that were missing or areas of concern that needed to be addressed. The public was also asked to fill out a survey, which will be used to gain a better understanding about experiences with storm damage personally and in the community, areas of the community that need protection and projects they would like to see to help prevent flooding in the future.
At the Fort Plain table, four residents sat down with consultant Sarah Quandt, of M.J. Engineering and Land Surveying P.C., to discuss their experiences during the storms that devastated the village last summer.
Resident Donna Marsh talked about how the floods damaged her property, from flooding out her barn to washing away her livestock. She explained that she didn't get assistance because the damage didn't affect her home and she raised concerns regarding the creek that runs along her property.
The other residents at the table shared similar stories about people in their neighborhoods that had been impacted.
"It was more of story telling session where they talked about their experience," Quandt said afterward. "They explained that communication was rough during the storm and it was hard to know where to go and when to go."
At the Canajoharie table, Mayor Francis Avery, Deputy Mayor Ronald Dievendorf and Jeffrey Swartz, director of the village water filtration plant, pored over the map at the center of their table, pointing to different areas of the village and discussing potential projects.
Avery said the projects that were discussed included dredging the Mohawk River, which has been the source of the village's flooding in the past, and repairing the retaining walls at the Canajoharie Creek.
While the village did not experience any major damage from Hurricanes Lee and Irene, Avery said there has been an increase in flooding during storm events.
"We never had a problem until 2006 when the dredging ceased," Avery said. "All our flooding is due because of the Mohawk River and the canal locks not working properly."
Avery said it is the state's responsibility to maintain the locks, which are supposed to provide flood control.
These projects will be added to the list of approximately 45 projects identified county-wide by the planning committee.
Office of Emergency Management Director Jeffery Smith said among those projects is upgrades to the communication system, which currently is not sufficient.
Different branches of emergency personnel are under different frequencies, making communication difficult during flood events. The goal is to upgrade the system so all emergency personnel are under the same frequency, he said.
Another county-wide project would be a water monitoring system that would alert emergency officials when river and stream water levels get too high.
"When the water reaches a certain point we would take action," Smith said. "It helps us to determine when to evacuate low lying areas."
Nagle said another public engagement hearing would be held before the plan was due to the state on July 31.
Those who did not attend the meeting can still provide their input by filling out the survey posted on the Montgomery County website: https://www.co.montgomery.ny.us.