Look for money now and resiliency going forward
Municipalities at opposite ends of Route 301 are considering future approaches, urgent repairs and immediate financing as they contend with flood damage from the storms that inundated Putnam County earlier this month, hitting Philipstown particularly hard.
President Joe Biden on July 22 approved a request from Gov. Kathy Hochul for a “major disaster declaration” that will allow federal funds to flow to communities affected by flooding across upstate New York, including those in Dutchess and Putnam counties.
The declaration gives counties access to financial support, including low-interest recovery loans, for debris removal, emergency protective measures and repairs to public buildings, roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment facilities, critical infrastructure sites, schools and parks. The funding will come primarily through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
New York has also engaged with the U.S. Small Business Administration to pursue low-interest recovery loans for stricken businesses, the governor said. Further assistance to individuals remains under federal review, including for people who live on private roads.
“My administration will work directly with FEMA in the coming weeks to ensure our local government partners receive the critical funding they need to begin the recovery and rebuilding process,” Hochul said in a statement.
In the same statement, Dutchess County Executive William F.X. O’Neil said that “we greatly appreciate the assistance from the state and federal government,” and Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne said he would “like to thank President Biden for approving the federal major disaster declaration. I’d also like to thank Gov. Hochul, her staff and team at the Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services for working jointly with our team at the Bureau of Emergency Services during the storms and recovery efforts.”
According to Byrne, “every representative from Putnam’s state and federal delegation took time to reach out and offer support in the aftermath of the storms and the county is grateful to all, but we also recognize we still have a long way to go before all repairs and mitigation efforts are completed.”
In addition, Hochul deployed staff from the State Department of Financial Services (DFS) to assist residents affected by the flooding in filing insurance claims. (Information is available by calling 800-339-1759. The agency also has resources at dfs.ny.gov.)
Locally, deliberations began July 12, when the Cold Spring Village Board discussed the storm damage and repairs. On July 17, the Nelsonville Village Board and residents reviewed the problems created by severe thunderstorms and flooding.
The following evening, July 18, the three members of the county Legislature’s Physical Services Committee unanimously endorsed a request from Byrne to spend $1 million to repair damaged infrastructure, sending the measure to the full Legislature for consideration on Tuesday (Aug. 1).
On July 20, Philipstown Supervisor John Van Tassel and the four other Town Board members alerted the public that the south entrance to Old Manitou Road in Garrison is closed pending repairs and five others suffered damage: Old Albany Post Road, Chapman Road, Avery Road, Philipse Brook Road (the eastern end of Snake Hill Road) and the eastern stretch of Indian Brook Road.
Byrne appeared July 21 on a 10-member panel in Mount Vernon organized by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to discuss recovery efforts in the Hudson Valley.
On Wednesday (July 26), Deputy Mayor Tweeps Phillips Woods, who chaired a meeting for the Cold Spring Village Board, thanked village staff for their work which went “above and beyond” during the flooding. She also praised the Cold Spring Fire Co., whose volunteers had already responded to 71 calls in July, mainly as a result of the severe weather.
“That is an extraordinarily taxing amount of time spent doing work that most of us could not do,” Woods said of the firefighters. “I want to thank you for doing what you do with such energy and for always being there to answer the call.”
At the Nelsonville meeting on July 17, Mayor Chris Winward said the area reportedly received 10 to 15 inches of rain in about 10 days. It coursed down the mountains, “ripped up the entire streambed” along the Yellow Trail in the Nelsonville Woods, swamped yards, tore up pavement on Healy Road, and forced at least two residents to relocate as brooks in the middle of Nelsonville overflowed when debris clogged culverts, including one on Secor Street that was severely “disturbed, washed away, compromised.”
The owners of historic homes near the Secor culvert described several harrowing hours on July 9 and 10 as water sloshed up to the top of one’s porch steps and filled the other’s ground floor with 3 feet of water, wrecking furnishings.
Jo Pitkin, the resident with the nearly-flooded porch, said it took the Cold Spring Fire Co. about five hours to unclog the culvert. She and her neighbor, Susan Branagan, whose home flooded, told the board that over the years they have removed blockage from the culvert, even during storms. “I can’t even count how many times we’ve cleared that,” Pitkin said.
When Winward cautioned them to avoid do-it-yourself remediation, Branagan responded that village officials must inform residents of whom, or what government agency, to call in such emergencies. “Stop the water from rising in my house and I will not do dangerous things,” she said.
Pitkin said the state Department of Transportation is responsible for the culvert and “should have been maintaining this.”
But the mayor said that when DOT visited Nelsonville, “they did not say it was their responsibility, they did not say it was not their responsibility.” She promised to seek solutions. Overall, she observed, “every time we go out, we see another drain that’s got a big hole next to it.”
Trustee Tom Campanile said that the flooding likewise destroyed a bridge on the Blue Trail and took out other stream crossings in the Nelsonville Woods and “we’re not putting those back soon.” He advised anyone walking there to prepare for water and mud.
Winward said the county had conferred with village and town supervisors at a post-storm meeting with a consulting firm Putnam hired to assist with applying for federal aid.
On July 19, after more rain, Pitkin and Branagan reiterated their concerns while giving a brief tour of flood-washed areas along Secor Street. That same day, Van Tassel reported, new flooding occurred on Cedar Street, which is near Secor Street, the Haldane school campus and the boundary between Cold Spring and Nelsonville.
The Garrison Fire Department helped pump water there. Town and village representatives “will continue to work together,” Van Tassel said.
At the Physical Services Committee session in Carmel, Legislator Nancy Montgomery, whose district covers Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, thanked county officials for their outreach and noted the ongoing challenges of climate change.
“Are we keeping in mind what the big fixes will be to manage this going forward?” she asked. “Our [county government] Climate Smart project is not going well.”
Montgomery, who serves on the Physical Services Committee, pointed to resiliency demands at the micro, not just macro, level. “How do we do this with private property owners, on every stream, every brook, every river?” she asked. “It’s impossible.”
Simple improvements, such as installing sturdier, larger culvert pipes, might be feasible now, she said.
John Tully, the county purchasing director, assured her that such foresight “is what we’re incorporating into all our design, extra efforts for resiliency, because FEMA does recognize that and will help fund it.”
County Public Works Director Thomas Feighery said his department’s initial work after — or between — the rain involved attempts “just to make the roadways safe,” including Upper and Lower Station Roads in Garrison. He said Philipstown and other western Putnam towns suffered the most. In Cold Spring and Garrison, “we were lucky the tide went out. It took some of the water with it. That helped a lot.”
Now, an infusion of $1 million is crucial, Feighery said. “With back-to-back storms like this, we need that kind of money just to get started.” He said Putnam is still assessing the breadth and price tag of the damage county-wide.
Tully added that more funding will probably be needed in coming months.
In Philipstown, Van Tassel reported July 20 said that the town Highway Department “has been working around the clock to assess the damage and repair the worst-hit roads and flooded areas.”
He encouraged patience. Moreover, he said, with climate change “damaging weather will become more frequent. We are aware that we will have to invest in our infrastructure to increase our community resiliency.”
Rep. Mike Lawler, whose U.S. House district includes Philipstown, conferred July 10 with town and village leaders at Town Hall. He predicted that regional Hudson Valley storm-related costs “will likely be in the tens-of-millions-of-dollars” and promised to “continue working with my colleagues at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure that help arrives as expeditiously as possible.”
The July 9 storm centered on West Point, which suffered extensive damage that could cost more than $100 million to repair, Sen. Chuck Schumer said on July 17 during a tour of the base with other elected officials who included Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Pat Ryan, whose district includes Beacon. The Army Corps of Engineers will handle repairs.
The flooding, caused by more than 8 inches of rain, tore into bridges, dams, roads and buildings at the base, along with at least 130 homes, severely damaging about 20.
In Highland Falls, the Bear Mountain State Park remains closed, along with the Trailside Museum and Bear Mountain Zoo and the Popolopen suspension bridge on Route 9W in Fort Montgomery.
The state Transportation Department did not immediately respond to an email asking about the status of repairs to the bridge, but the Associated Press reported contractors hoped to complete them by the end of July. Many Highlands residents use the bridge to reach their jobs at West Point, as do Garrison students who attend O’Neill High School.
Michael Turton and Chip Rowe contributed reporting.
Behind The Story
News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.