By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- A Montgomery County task force recommends an international company be hired with grants to assess impending public safety threats along the Schoharie Creek in the mass debris and vegetation left behind by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in 2011.
AECOM was deemed the most qualified of 11 engineering firms that responded to a request for qualifications to craft the written assessment, which Department of Public Works Commissioner Paul Clayburn said would first identify immediate concerns that could be onset by severe winter weather.
It was said the county dodged a bullet with a mild 2011-12 winter season, "but we don't know what Mother Nature will do, so the sooner we get started, the better. There may be things in the creek we don't know about, that we should," Clayburn said.
Nearly 15 months ago, the tropical storms severely flooded the creek, not only changing its historic water path, but carrying the remains of demolished homes, uprooted trees, straggling limbs, and random trash that were left behind when waters receded.
Since, officials have been concerned how that debris could further complicate the water body's tendency to jam and flood areas when frozen; that concern exacerbated in how flooding patterns have changed, and how the creek could carry the debris downstream and into the Mohawk River.
The issue was given a great deal of attention by former Emergency Management Director Dwight Schwabrow, who collaborated with county Senior Planner Douglas Greene to garner flood mitigation grants from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The grant had two pieces: $150,000 to compile the assessment, and $250,000 to remove debris from two sites readily accessible on the creek that were deemed high priority because of their proximity to public infrastructure.
Clayburn said it's unknown how much it could cost to remove debris from other areas, noting the debris removal project in Burtonville that cost an excess of $600,000.
But the grant was an alternative after the state and Federal Emergency Management Agencies rejected February applications to have the debris assessed and removed. Schwabrow then compiled a photographic record of the debris fields during a flight in a State Police helicopter in April.
"I have to give Dwight credit," Clayburn said. "It's been an issue but it was the funding that took the longest to find. The assessment could lead the way to other grants to help pay to get the remaining debris removed."
As chairman of the Public Safety Committee, Palatine Supervisor Brian Sweet prompted the issue at the committee's meeting Tuesday, noting the task force met Friday and interviewed three companies.
Sweet, Greene, Clayburn and Florida town Supervisor William Strevy are on the task force.
Because winter is near, Strevy said the issue can't wait until next month for the resolution to officially appear on the Public Safety Committee's December agenda. Instead, it will appear at the board's upcoming Finance Committee meeting.
"Time is of the essence, and it's important to get the boots on the ground before snowfall," Strevy said.
Clayburn said it'll likely take three months for AECOM to craft the proposal in its entirety. He said snow could hinder its completion.
"It really depends how much snow we get, and the timing of it," Clayburn said. "If it starts now and doesn't stop till March, it could have a big impact."
Though the task force's recommendation was qualification-based, Clayburn expects the project can be completed within the grant limits.