Article and Photo by Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
A drenching rainstorm and snow melt on Jan. 26 left a wet footprint of dangerous flooding on several Island roadways. Supervisor Peter Marston wants to eliminate the possibility that such a “massive flooding event” ever again impedes travel and blocks neighborhoods on Grand Island.
To that end, he introduced a resolution at Monday’s Town Board meeting that seeks “support for the restoration of the watershed on Grand Island to its past performance levels.”
The board voted unanimously in favor of the resolution to seek support from government agencies and officials to achieve stream maintenance and seek funding to assist the process.
“Due to restrictions imposed by overarching government agencies, it has become impossible for us to maintain the drainage system that our creeks and streams should provide for the entire community,” the supervisor’s resolution said.
Marston wants to ensure that the town has the plan and the financial means to fix the problem of poor drainage and prevent a recurrence of the watery mess that ensued.
Residents on South Lane, Pin Oak Circle and the vicinity, near Woods Creek and Spicer Creek, were swamped. But by nightfall that Friday, the town had dealt with the deluge effectively.
At the meeting, Marston praised the town’s flood response, but cautioned that red tape from other government entities is tying the town’s hands in trying to solve the problem
“I’d like to take a minute and thank both the Highway Department and our Sewer Department for their extraordinary efforts they put in during our flooding times,” Marston said.
“You guys worked very hard – and two guys were texting me late in the evening. They were very diligent and did their best with what they had; and subsequently, that’s why we’re looking to give them more tools to fight with because I think they were … overwhelmed, and again they did their best and I appreciate them. I appreciate their effort for the town.”
Marston’s motion was seconded by Council member Dan Kilmer, who spoke in favor of the resolution.
“No. 1, long overdue,” he said. “No. 2, I’d like to make sure, in conjunction with the highway superintendent, that we have a plan – something in the can so if we get this approval, we can actually start working on it right away.”
Marston said that was the focus of a recent meeting he had with Highway Superintendent Dick Crawford and department staffers, as well as town Engineering Department personnel.
“We really pushed the envelope on, ‘We need to have plans ready.’ So that if we do get … any potential funding, that we are ready to go,” he said. “I’ve been assured that we have some (funding), and what we don’t have, we are going to get.”
At the earlier Town Board workshop meeting, Marston said the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) now encompasses a lot of the town’s watershed, which comes inland, and “we know we have certain issues with said watershed.”
A draft LWRP that was five years in the making has been sent to the state for review. It can be found online at: https://dos.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2023/08/grand_island_draft_lwrp_sections_1_to_7.pdf.
In discussion before the vote, Council member Tom Digati said the approach to the drainage issue should be twofold.
“Addressing something that’s been … years in the making – and we need a more immediate plan for that one,” he said. “You also have to look at this from the standpoint of ongoing maintenance to make sure we don’t get to this point again. I know Dick Crawford and the highway crews do what they can when they can, but the issue is we’ve been kind of handcuffed by our ability to get in and clean these things and comply with DEC requirements and the like.”
Marston added, “We have been handcuffed by overarching authorities, not ourselves. We are more than willing to go help ourselves, if allowed. We have not been allowed.”
In August 2023, James Sharpe, chair of the Comprehensive Review Advisory Board, presented a status update on LWRP to the Town Board.
At that time, Sharpe said the town’s streams and creeks are getting dammed up, hampering the ability of the river to revitalize itself through freshwater channels.
“Every time we try to fix them, we’re facing the (Army) Corps of Engineers and the DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation) saying, ‘You can’t go there; you can’t do that,’ ” he said.
Under the new LWRP plan, Sharpe said that, before the federal or state governments do anything with the shoreline, they will need to get agreement from the town.
Crawford and Marston explained on Wednesday that a number of newer factors have emerged that now exacerbate the drainage problems the Island has faced over the years. The natural context includes clay soil, a flat topography, and a complex system of creeks and streams that drain into the river. Problems worsen when you add to that the downed trees decimated by the emerald ash borer and the state regulations that prevent removal of the debris impeding the water flow to the river.
“The DEC’s regulations – they are the agency that permits the town to be able to go in there and do any type of remediation work to open (the creeks) back up. It’s very restrictive of what they will allow,” Crawford said.
“It’s our hope, through the Town Board’s resolution … that our state and federal reps will chime in and look to see how relief can be granted. Otherwise, flooding will continue.”
In other action, the Town Board:
•Passed a motion to execute a one-year extension to the existing contract with the Grand Island Fire Co. as outlined in the town’s original contract, pending legal review.
•Approved hiring an engineering firm, Clough, Harbour & Associates (CHA), to oversee the State Environmental Quality Review process for the warehouse/distribution center proposed by Acquest Development for 2780 Long Road. The town is the lead agency in the SEQR process, but the developer has agreed to pay for the hiring of the firm.
“We’ve had good discussions with this vendor,” Marston said at the board’s workshop session. “We feel that it behooves the town to have a professional at the helm.”
Digati said the engineering company is “going to coordinate with the existing experts we have. And most importantly, it will be the applicant who foots the bill for the services, not the town.”
He noted this hiring gives the town’s Engineering Department the opportunity to deal with some smaller projects and “gives us the depth on the bench that is appropriate for a project of this magnitude.”
•Approved a special use permit amendment for Matthew and Cherrish Beals, 12121 Amberwood Drive, to allow them to operate as a three-bedroom bed and breakfast, from the previous two-bedroom facility. The Town Board, meanwhile, is working to draft a law that would better regulate bed and breakfast establishments.
•Regarding Local Law No. 6 of 2023, on amending the town zoning code regarding allowable uses in the M-1 District, the board approved referring the matter to the Erie County Planning Board and setting a public hearing for 8 p.m. Monday March 18.
NEXT TIME: A closer look at the challenges the town faces to restore Grand Island’s watershed.