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Recovery Doesn’t Happen in a Day

As Mayor Doug French noted, last month’s Hurricane Irene was more than just a flood event. “The City had tidal surges pushing against its coast, heavy upstream water flow coming downstream, power outages due to high wind gusts, the wettest August on record, torrential rains within the City, and an encroaching high-tide. In a short time span, there was simply no place for the water to go and flash flooding resulted.”

 

By Robin Jovanovich

 

As Mayor Doug French noted, last month’s Hurricane Irene was more than just a flood event. “The City had tidal surges pushing against its coast, heavy upstream water flow coming downstream, power outages due to high wind gusts, the wettest August on record, torrential rains within the City, and an encroaching high-tide. In a short time span, there was simply no place for the water to go and flash flooding resulted.”

 

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How Rye residents and business owners weathered the storm requires just as multi-faceted an answer. For many the damage was not as bad as what the 2007 floods wrought. According to the latest City assessment, 63 homes and 11 commercial properties suffered major damage; 38 homes and 11 businesses had moderate damage. Initial estimates of damage to City facilities totaled $685,000.


The numbers are almost beside the point to those who’ve cleaned up after one too many floods in Rye. Indian Village residents met with Mayor French and Councilwoman Suzanna Keith last week, expressing their frustration that no flood mitigation project, not even the least expensive of them, the Bowman Dam Sluice Gate project, has gotten underway in the four and a half years since the 2007 floods. Homes on Wappanocca and Mendota were badly hit this time too.


Nearby Pet Pantry on north Purchase Street had to shut down operations — again. Jim Amico’s auto repair and detailing shop on Wappanocca was turned upside down.


A mandatory evacuation order was in effect at 131 Highland Hall, after the apartment complex’s oil tank was pushed up off the ground by the rushing waters and some 1,800 gallons of oil leaked out. Greg Faughnan, who’s been a tenant in the building for ten years, said the owners, R. A. Cohen  & Associates, had quickly made housing arrangements for the 100 tenants displaced at the Marriott and Extended Stay America in Elmsford, and the cleanup was proceeding in a timely manner. “A few residents lost their cars because the Highland lot flooded quickly,” Mr. Faughnan reported. “A bigger question is will the City permit those basement apartments again.”


Rye High School’s field at Nugent Stadium was wrinkled during the flood; some lines need straightening and sections will need to be cut and re-stretched. A thorough cleaning was required because of the extensive debris, and it also needed to be disinfected. The cost of the repair is $87,385. Like all other damage and clean-up costs, it will be submitted to the District’s insurance company as part of a Hurricane Irene claim.

 

“Five of seven flood tarps remained in place and that’s what saved our field,” said Athletic Director Rob Castagna.


As in most good dramas, there were many noble moments — neighbors helping neighbors bail out, tap into their generators, American Yacht Club lending the Rye Fire Department inflatable boats, rescue operations large and small.

 

Mayor Doug French lost no time calling for help — from County, State, and Federal officials — to clean up after Irene. And Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, County Executive Rob Astorino, and Legislator Judy Myers, and Steve Otis, on behalf of State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, came. The morning after Irene walloped Rye, officials arrived at City Hall where they were greeted by City staff members from every department, and the media.

 

“I contacted our officials, not only to come see the impact on residents, but to see what happened to our businesses, our organizations, our schools,” said Mayor French. “We need their help beyond disaster recovery relief; we need mitigation of upstream events. And for that we need funding.”

 

The Mayor said he appreciates the efforts of Senator Gillinbrand and Congresswoman Lowey, along with the County Executive, the Secretary of the State of NY and the Governor, in working with the President to release FEMA aid for uninsured individuals and businesses. “I’m counting on them to help when it comes time for approvals of FEMA projects. They need to help us cut through the red tape, especially when the agencies get to the cost-benefit analysis.”

 

While touring some of Rye’s hardest-hit streets the morning of August 29 — Purchase, Elm, and Locust — Senator Gillibrand promised to work hard to get money for Rye. Mr. Astorino reported that the County was well into the information collection phase. “Once we receive the numbers from all the communities, we’ll aggressively pursue funding.” Congresswoman Lowey stressed “the need for bi-partisan support.”

 

“Flood mitigation is a two-step process,” said Mayor French, “that is not just about relief after the fact but about preventative funding and a commitment to mitigate the impact of downstream flooding from upstream that will require a series of culverts, sluice gates and retention ponds.  It will also require effective enforcement upstream that new and recent development will detain and retain water and are held accountable to it — while downstream new development and replacement is properly elevated above the 100-year flood elevation levels.”

 

The projects the City is working on include: the Bowman Avenue Sluice Gate to regulate flow downstream; the Bowman Avenue Dam Upper Pond Expansion, which is pending federal review; the Anderson Hill Road Retention Pond; Downstream Dredging; and more mitigation at Beaver Swamp Brook.

 

The waters from Hurricane Irene's floods that washed over New York State and Sound Shore communities may have receded, but the debates and discussions continue over how to prevent the problem from reoccurring. New York State Assemblyman George Latimer, who represents the largest number of flood-ravaged neighborhoods in Mamaroneck, Rye, New Rochelle, and Larchmont, is again pushing his proposed State Flood Mitigation Fund, targeting $30 million over the next three years, to provide resources to help build projects that would mitigate flooding in the future.
“The City will restore and renew,” promised Mayor French.

 

Photos by Jim Byrne, Melanie Cane, Peter Donahue, Janice Llanes Fabry, Robert Flood, Pedro Garcia, Marilyn Gerrish, Andrew Gillies, Bill Gordon, Robin Jovanovich, Katie Lawrence, Evan Listokin, Dan Love, Annette McLoughlin, Stefan Radtke, and Cathrine White


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