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Officials work to prevent NY floods

More than a year later, recovery continues for Upper New York State flood survivors, but organized effort is running out of funds.

BY BOND BRUNGARD | Binghamton, NY | March 4, 2008

State, municipal and county officials met here last week to try and help mitigate future flooding, which has plagued this region for many years.

New York state public safety officials have pledged to provide local governments $650,000 for future prevention measures.

“This is just the start to begin getting the ball rolling,” said Greg Jenkins, the flood relief coordinator of the Broome County Council of Churches.

Jenkins has been helping residents recover from flooding here, and he attended the summit, which was conducted at the Binghamton Regency Hotel that was damaged in a flood in 2006. “(The state allocation) gives people hope as a part of prevention,” Jenkins added.

Jenkins did not sit on a panel during the summit, but he said panel members agreed something must be done to ensure prevention is addressed.

“One of the reoccurring themes was: It will happen again, and we should be prepared,” he said.

It’s been more than a year since residents of Conklin, NY, experienced a flash flood in November 2006, but the brief storm sent a shudder through many that were starting to recover from a deluge earlier that summer.

Conklin, south of Binghamton, was pounded with nearly a foot of rain June 27-28, and remnants of that storm are still being discovered as the recovery process continues.

“We’re still finding houses that haven’t been touched yet,” said Jenkins.

The Chenango, Delaware and Susquehanna rivers were swollen from their overflowing tributaries, and Conklin, south of Binghamton on the Susquehanna, found itself under water and trying to cope with the needs of thousands victimized by the disaster.

At the summit, Jenkins said he asked about what could be done to address contractor fraud.

“It’s become a major issue,” he said

More than 15,000 homes were damaged by flooding in the region. Jenkins and other volunteers from the Conklin Presbyterian Church fed those affected by the June storm for months following the storms.

“We served about 20,000 meals for the first two months to flood victims and volunteers,” he said.

FEMA trailers are still home to 17 families, and efforts are still underway to rebuild homes, perform mold mitigation and use mold-resistant sheetrock in the rebuilding process.

“If it happens again,” said Jenkins, “you don’t have to worry about (the mold).”

Daily necessities, such as furniture and clothing are no longer needed, but Conklin said skilled labor volunteers, such as electricians, carpenters and plumbers, are needed to finally make the storm remembered years from now in scrapbooks.

“It’s astonishing how long a recovery takes,” he said.

In a few months, the flood relief center, which coordinated these efforts, will close due to a lack of funding. After that, Jenkins said homeowners will be on their own for their long term recovery.

This past fall, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, whose 22nd District encompasses the City of Binghamton to the west and across the Catskills to the Hudson Valley cities of Kingston, Newburgh, Middletown and Poughkeepsie, announced that he was able to get a $200,000 appropriation for an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood protection study of the Rondout and Esopus creeks.

Hinchey and others, including Nick Woerner, the Town of Ulster supervisor, and officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had their backs facing the Esopus Creek, while others looked toward the creek and answers from Hinchey and the others.

Water and stone define this region. Some of the oldest communities in the United States were formed along the Hudson River, and the Rondout and Esopus creeks originate from reservoirs built to provide water for millions of residents in New York city, about 100 miles south.

Hinchey and residents are looking for answers to try and contain the flood water that spilled over the banks of the Rondout and Esopus creeks in 2005 and 2007.

On the first weekend of April 2005, a relentless storm pounded the region, and closed highways such as Route 209, which connects far northeastern Pennsylvania with Port Jervis, New York, on the Delaware River, to the Hudson Valley.

An hour north on Route 209 toward Kingston, on the Hudson River, motorists were being detoured on the soggy evening of Saturday, April 2, to rural roads either in the Catskill foothills or along the base of the Shawangunks, a sliver of the Appalachian Mountains which separates the Catskills from the Hudson River.

Many of those roads were impassable, and when daylight appeared the next morning, many found attending their church services a longer journey than possibly imagined.

A bridge leading out of the hamlet of Kerhonkson over the Rondout Creek, remained open, despite the body of an overturned delivery truck, wedged against a pier.

But the bridge, one of the few open in the region, enabled travel over the Shawangunks to Gardiner and New Paltz, located on the Wallkill River. The Wallkill River originates south in northern New Jersey and flows to merge with the Rondout in the Town of Rosendale, about six miles north of New Paltz.

The Rondout’s raging waters closed bridges in Rosendale and streamed across Main Street in Accord, about three miles north of Kerkonkson, forcing residents to view an open bridge to Route 209 cutoff by the flood waters.

Back in Kerhonkson, members of the Federated Church of Kerhonkson (a United Methodist - Reformed Church in America congregation) were getting ready for Sunday services when the call came out to help others in the community affected by the weekend deluge.

The community and congregation scrambled to help those gathered at the firehouse needing food and shelter, and in the end, the congregation helped a parishioner, now living in the Ellenville area, also an affected community south of Kerhonkson.

“She bounced back,” said the Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy, “she has a lot of resolve.”

The community has bounced back too since then, but many were devastated by the Rondout and its rage that weekend. Homes were damaged and businesses closed.

The sign has changed on the building and some new priorities have been instilled at the Federated Church of Kerhonkson. “We didn’t really have a plan in place,” to help community needs, said Tweedy.

The church started a food pantry and when the call came to help others affected by national disasters, the church sent nine members, about 10 ten percent of its current active congregation, to Mississippi to help with the cleanup of Hurricane Katrina in the late winter and early spring of 2006.

“We didn’t want to be caught sitting on our hands again,” said Tweedy.

And those experiences have given her and the others another sense of purpose.

“I definitely feel we are more encouraged to do something,” she said. “There are a lot of ways to be a mission.”

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