By CASEY CROUCHER
The Leader Herald
Two years after the devastating destruction Hurricane Irene left in its wake, the areas of Montgomery County that were damaged by flooding have finally completed many necessary repairs and are ready to move on.
Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Adam Schwabrow said Irene caused the worst flooding destruction he had ever seen.
“I was here for ’06, and that was devastating for Canajoharie and Fort Plain and the western part of the county,” he said. “But [Irene] seemed to be more destructive. The 2006 flood caused a lot of damage, but it didn’t destroy a lot of things. This flood, in 2011, destroyed a lot of property and really changed the way the Schoharie Creek flowed.”
In late August 2011, emergency workers prepared for the worst as forecasters announced the potential of Hurricane Irene’s destruction.
Even though it was eventually downgraded to a tropical storm, it dumped enough rain to flood the Schoharie Creek and Mohawk River, and carried enough wind to down power lines and trees throughout the region.
The morning after Irene hit, more than 20,000 homes and businesses were without electricity; many had lost their homes to raging waters. Schools and firehouses became shelters. Flooding closed parts of Routes 29, 67, 30 and 30A and Mohawk River crossings. The New York State Thruway also was closed, leaving traffic to be rerouted through Main Street in Johnstown.
Despite all of the damage, much repair work has been done in two years.
Schwabrow said most of the repairs and cleanup from Irene are close to being completed. He said the Schoharie Creek is almost completely clear of debris from 2011.
“A lot of debris has been cleaned up. The county contracted with a contractor to take care of it; a lot of it got taken care of. They’re still in the process of doing some of it,” he said.
Schwabrow said the cleanup has improved any future problems the creek might have with debris.
“The good news is that the minor flooding we had earlier this summer on the Schoharie from the large amounts of rain didn’t give us a lot of problems with debris,” he said. “So it appears that whatever the contractor did pick up, and what’s been done, has worked to not create any future problems so far.”
Schwabrow said there are a few issues, such as creek erosion in residential backyards and bank erosion in certain areas, that could be problems for future flooding.
However, he said, they are considering how to address those potential problems.
“For the most part people have cleaned up a lot of the storm’s mess and moved on with their lives,” he said. “There’s still some minor mitigation issues that we’ve got to take care of and we’re trying to address.”
Old Fort Johnson, located on the corner of Routes 5 and 67, also sustained significant damage from Hurricane Irene’s wrath, but it’s almost completely repaired, according to museum director Alessa Wylie.
“We had quite a bit of damage. Old Fort Johnson had 5 feet of water in it and our visitor’s center had about 2 feet of water in it,” Wylie said.
She said there were different methods for repairing the damage in each building.
“Because the old fort has a lot of its historic material still in there, such as paneling that’s from the 18th century, we had a company do this innovative drying system where they dried it literally from the inside out and we didn’t have to remove any walls,” she said. “Normally when there’s a flood and you worry about drying things out, you have to literally gut whatever portion is affected and remove everything then replace it. We could not do that in the fort.”
Wylie said the visitor’s center, which doesn’t have any historic significance, was repaired using the traditional route by gutting the bottom 4 feet of the entire first floor, drying it and then rebuilding it.
The only structure the museum is still in the process of restoring is its 18th century “privy,” or outhouse.
“It’s one of only eight colonial privies in the country. It’s very historic, believe it or not,” Wylie said while laughing.
“[The privy] tipped over in the flood and almost floated away,” she said. “We were very fortunate. A local company, Santos Construction, donated their time and services by coming here with a crane and lifted it back up and got it back standing.”
She said the privy was left standing while the museum restored the other buildings, but this year they’re finishing the privy repairs.
“Once that’s completely done we’ll totally be back in shape,” she said.
Wylie mentioned how fortunate the fort was in comparison to Guy Park Manor, whose damage was far more noticeable, and whose repairs aren’t.
Ann Peconie, executive director of the Walter Elwood Museum which used to be located in Guy Park Manor, recounted the damage and the task of moving out of the there.
“It took many, many, many weeks to move out because everything in the basement was covered in muck and mud and we had to meticulously pack everything on the second floor that was not damaged,” Peconie said. “Then we had to sort through mud and debris to find artifacts that went everywhere.
She said that in the winter of 2012 New York State Canal Corp. severed their lease with the museum because the manor needed so many repairs and it didn’t want the museum moving back in anytime soon.
“It’s unfortunate that the manor still has not been repaired to its pre-flood condition,” she said.
Peconie said the lockmaster’s house for Erie Canal Lock 11, which is located right next to the manor, was destroyed in the flood and hasn’t been rebuilt yet. She said the priority is on the locks, and the manor’s repairs will come after.
Peconie, who has a passion for local history, is saddened by the lack of repair on the manor.
“It’s unfortunate because the manor is a federal landmark,” she said. “It’s a pre-Revolutionary War home, built in 1766 for Sir William Johnson’s daughter.”
Schwabrow said he is happy to see the majority of people have come back from the flood and have been able to get back on their feet again.
“It’s nice to know that people are able to bounce back from something like this,” he said. “I hate to say we’re getting used to it up here in the Mohawk Valley, but it’s something that people are growing accustomed to being able to recover quickly from.”
Casey Croucher can be reached at [email protected].