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Local N.Y. Officials Seek Disaster Status After Flooding

A state of emergency took effect at 2 p.m. Sunday for the towns of Butternuts, Morris and Pittsfield, where major transportation routes were deemed impassable due to overflowing creeks and streams.

A flooded road.
(TNS) - Several local elected officials are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue a formal disaster declaration for the Butternut Valley region, which bore the brunt of the summer storms that swept the region Saturday, July 17, into Sunday, July 18.

Assemblyman Joe Angelino, R-Norwich, joined state Sens. Pete Oberacker, R-Schenevus, and Fred Akshar, R-Endwell, in seeking the disaster declaration in order to qualify the region for financial relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“In Otsego, Chenango, and Broome counties, the local governments and residents have experienced flood damage that will far exceed their ability to recover on their own. Flooding has closed and damaged public infrastructure that includes bridges and roads due to the heavy rainfall. Residential, business, agriculture, and municipal damage is significant,” the July 19 letter read. “While damage estimates are still being tabulated, there is no doubt the costs will be in the millions. Repairs and future flood mitigation measures will require federal and state assistance.”

A state of emergency took effect at 2 p.m. Sunday for the towns of Butternuts, Morris and Pittsfield, where major transportation routes were deemed impassable due to overflowing creeks and streams.

State Route 51 was closed from the village of Morris to state Route 8 in Mount Upton, as was county Route 4 between state Route 23 in Morris to state Route 51 in Gilbertsville.

Fire departments in Morris and Gilbertsville were forced to relocate operations at around 9 p.m. Saturday as both stations were overrun by floodwaters, according to Michele Farwell, who represents the towns of Butternuts, Morris and Pittsfield on the Otsego County Board of Representatives.

“Luckily, everyone came together to help out,” Farwell said, praising the neighborly efforts of fire departments in Mount Upton and South New Berlin.

The localized state of emergency is also required for the region to become eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency relief, according to Farwell.

Under the state of emergency, town crews are permitted to work in streams and minor waterways without first seeking approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Local officials may also circumvent the requisite bidding and procurement procedures so emergency repairs can be expedited, Farwell said. All of the damage and the work put in must be carefully documented in order to be eligible for federal reimbursement.

Farwell said she is looking into the process for individuals to apply for FEMA relief and will likely schedule a series of local town halls to inform local residents of the process.

“I’m getting all these calls from people who have water and debris and dead fish in their basements,” she said. “I want to be able to tell them what they can do with their dead fish.”

Morris Central School canceled summer school programs, including CROP and Stepping Stones, for Monday and Tuesday.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and send another alert message out tomorrow with additional information,” district officials said in a Facebook post Monday, July 19 .

The Otsego County Fairgrounds in Morris remained untouched by floodwaters in the area as of 9 p.m. Sunday, according to the Otsego County Agricultural Association. The Otsego County Fair is expected to proceed as scheduled from Aug. 3 through 8.

Farwell said the damage wrought by weekend flooding and last week’s rains was more severe than the 2011 floods.

“In 2011, the rain was more sustained, flooding both minor and major streams and rivers,” Farwell said. “This weekend, it was more of an intense rain over a shorter period, which caused only the smaller streams to flood.”

Gilbertsville’s Butternut Creek, which flooded in 2011, swelled over the weekend, but “not too much worse than the snow melts in the spring,” Farwell said, “but the Dunderberg poured into the backyards on Bloom Street, damaging garages and outbuildings along the way.”

The Marion Avenue bridge was similarly taken out by stormwaters in 2006, flooding the adjacent Gilbertsville Presbyterian Church.

Communities along the eastern edge of Chenango County were similarly hard-hit by the storms, according to Chenango County Fire Coordinator Matt Beckwith.

The towns of Guilford, Oxford, Norwich, Coventry, Green, Mount Upton and New Berlin sustained approximately $213,000 in damage, Beckwith said, mostly in washed-out roads and clogged culverts.

“Fortunately, we got nowhere near what Otsego County received,” he said.

State routes 8 and 23 were closed temporarily as waters submerged the roadways, Beckwith said. Fire departments throughout Chenango County received dozens of calls about flooded basements and backyards, but no injuries or evacuations were reported.

“It’s been a pretty moist summer, and the ground is more saturated than normal,” Beckwith said. “If we get 5 to 6 inches of water in a matter of hours, the creeks and streams and beaver dams are going to let go. That’s a lot of water, and it’s got to go some place.”

In Delaware County, roadways in the low-lying areas in Grand Gorge and Roxbury were reportedly closed as waters swept in

No damage was reported in Schoharie County over the weekend, where Middleburgh and surrounding communities continue to clean up from several inches of water brought on by last weekend’s storms.

Sarah Eames , staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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