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Copake adds up the storm damage, and the toll rises


COPAKE — When Hurricane Irene dumped several inches of rain and transformed the Bash Bish Brook into a raging torrent that jumped its banks, the water invaded homes in and around the hamlet, washed away crops and foundations and deposited a film of mud that still lingers as the waters recede.

Though that watery nightmare may have been the worst ever, hamlet residents say it is not the first time they have been through it and they have called on the Town Board to take action.

Kathy and Alan Friedman, who live along the County Route 7A on the southern route into the hamlet, presented a petition to the board at its September 8 meeting. Signed by 60 residents and counting, the document calls on the board to take “immediate action to correct a life- and property-threatening situation with the flooding from the Bash Bish Creek. We believe that the town would be negligent if this is not done immediately as the flooding of farms, businesses and homes along Bash Bish Creek has increased in frequency with the build-up of sediments over the years.”

Mrs. Friedman said this week she had five feet of water in her basement, which refilled twice. She called on Copake firefighters to pump it out and evacuated her house in fear as the waters rose.

Her neighbor is in the process of gutting the first floor of her house due to water damage, the owner of another house south of the hamlet opened the door to find fish swimming around inside, and Supervisor Reggie Crowley said a military veteran who just retired after 22-years of service “lost everything” in the house he rents south of the hamlet. The veteran is now living in a travel trailer on loan from a Good Samaritan until the house is made livable again.

Hank Clement, who lives next door to the Laundromat told the Town Board that his driveway and his garage foundation are not there anymore. He suspects they are somewhere in Ancram.

Residents at the north end of the hamlet were not spared either. The house near Folger’s Pond sits on high ground above the pond, which swelled to overspread the entire front yard between Farm Road and Main Street and left residents to paddle a couple hundred feet from the road to their house in a rubber raft.

Arthur Rubenstein, who lives on the opposite side of County Route 7A/Main Street, midway between the corner and Dad’s Diner, had two feet of water in his basement and had to replace his well pump and have his furnace cleaned and serviced. He is sure his neighbors encountered the same problems.

The Bash Bish Brook, which flows down from Mount Washington, MA, and crosses Route 22 just south of Ruge’s GMC, usually takes a path about a few hundred feet back from his house. But when the heavy rains fall, the stream diverts to right outside his back porch, “because it’s clogged up with branches and rocks and needs to be cleaned out,” Mr. Rubenstein said.

As he understands the history, the course of the brook or sections of it were moved by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s because it was too close to the hamlet. But now, when an excessive amount of water fills the brook, it goes back to its original course, Mr. Rubenstein said.

Doug Dean, an electronics engineer and lifelong area resident, who lives on 7A next door to the former Hub restaurant, just south of the hamlet, said the problems with the stream began in the 1940s when Route 22 was moved to its current location. Many trees were cut and the aquifer was disturbed, Mr. Dean said.

In the mid-1950s, another hurricane hit the area, wiped out the County Route 7A bridge over the Bash Bish and flooded the town, he said. The bridge was replaced with a much wider and higher bridge the following year and the stream bed was re-graded and cleared. Mr. Dean said at the time, he could stand under the bridge and reaching up could not touch the rafters underneath. Now with all the gravel that has been washed down, carried along and built up in the stream bed, the bridge is well within reach.

From the mid 1950s to the mid 1990s, the stream stayed within its bounds, but since then, Mr. Dean has had keep a sump pump running in the basement when it rains. Though it’s not uncommon to see water pooling above his basement windows, Mr. Dean said the sump pump has been good at keeping the water at bay, except during Irene, when a four-foot accumulation took out his hot water heater and furnace.

At the town board meeting, Supervisor Crowley reported that the Maple Lane Bridge over the Bash Bish in Copake Falls has been inspected and no “meaningful flood damage” was found to the bridge structure, except for the center support pier, which was lost. The bridge, which has been closed since the storm, will remain that way, “we’re not sure how long,” he said.

Though the supervisor called Governor Cuomo’s August 30 suspension of permit requirements for emergency work on streambeds and banks an early Christmas present, the town by itself does not have the equipment necessary to do the job needed.

But Councilman Walter Kiernan and the county do.

Mr. Kiernan, a dairy farmer, who is also in the excavation business, said at the meeting that as the owner of most of the property along a mile-long stretch of the Bash Bish from the Maple Lane Bridge to the County Route 7A bridge near the Hub, he has started the consultation process with the state Department of Environmental Conservation that will allow him to clear the major hot spots in the stream that adjoin his property. He also said he is applying for a $75,000 grant through the Columbia County Soil and Water Conservation District to help him finance the project. He has spoken to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will send someone to look at the damage. The councilman said much of his farmland was deposited in the stream during the storm along with $10,000 worth of his corn.

Saying he was willing to do the work, Mr. Kiernan noted, “this may be a bold statement to make with all I have to do, but I have the machinery to do it.”

Copake Highway Superintendent Bill Gregory said by phone this week that he will do what he can to help Mr. Kiernan with traffic control if necessary or with the moving of the material extracted from the stream. Mr. Kiernan said material taken from the stream has to be used in the repair of the stream and cannot be sold.

Mr. Gregory noted there are places a few hundred feet south of the County Route 7A bridge that also need attention and that’s where Supervisor Crowley hopes he can enlist the county’s help with its equipment. The highway chief said he and the supervisor hope to set up a meeting with County Department of Public Works Director David Robinson sometime in the near future.

The deadline for doing the streambed work is October 1, but Mr. Kiernan is hoping by laying out all the aspects of the project in his report, he can get an extension.

Though it is not clear how much involvement Copake highway forces will actually have in the stream clearing process, Town Budget Officer Joe LaPorta asked the board to consider where the money come will come from to pay for it.

To contact Diane Valden email

FEMA wants to hear from you

GREENPORT–Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Roy Brown and Director of Emergency Management Office, William Black advise county residents that representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be in the area to visit local businesses, residents, schools and libraries over the next few days and weeks to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Irene.

Anyone looking for individual assistance should apply at or by call 1-800-621-FEMA(3362).

All representatives will be wearing visible identification and will present it upon request.  Anyone with questions should contact the Columbia County Emergency Management Office at 518-828-1212.

Firefighters help small town recover

ANCRAM–The Ancram, Stuyvesant and Livingston fire companies are asking for donations to help the small community of Livingstonville recover from all the flood damage it suffered.

Livingstonville lies between Middleburgh and Durham in southern Schoharie County.

These three Columbia County companies have sent personnel to help Livingstonville clean up after their firehouse was flooded.

Ancram firefighters are collecting donations and will deliver them to the people of Livingstonville. Needed items include: cleaning supplies, mops, brooms, garbage bags, paper towels, toilet paper, disposable gloves, paper plates, plastic utensils, plastic cups, school supplies, personal hygiene products, soap, shampoo, nonperishable foods and men’s jeans. Items can be dropped off at the Firehouse Deli in Ancram, the Farmer’s Wife in Ancramdale and Ameri-Store on Route 22. Donations will be accepted through September 18.

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