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Town of Grand Island says persistent poor drainage needs permanent relief

Sat, Feb 17th 2024 07:00 am

By Karen Carr Keefe

Senior Contributing Writer

Flooding similar to what occurred Jan. 26 on Grand Island’s north end has been an ongoing problem in search of an effective remedy. And the town has resolved to be proactive in finding relief.

A heavy rain, combined with snowmelt, sent water surging on streets such as South Lane and Pin Oak Circle in the vicinity of Woods and Spicer creeks late last month.

The Town Board, on Feb. 5, passed a resolution by Supervisor Peter Marston seeking support from government and agency officials to allow the town to fix the problem of poor drainage that could again cause damaging flooding. A letter has gone out to the officials, Marston said Wednesday.

He said the town monitored the flooding, as it was happening, via drone, then redid the drone investigation when the ground was dry for comparison. Another measure will be taken of water levels when the town gets another rain of a half-inch or so. Then mapping will be done. The goal is to provide video evidence to support the town’s request for aid in easing rules and providing funding to prevent flooding.

Marston said the response from the public has been positive to their approach.

Speaking of government officials, “They don’t want to modify the creeks,” he said. But the supervisor noted that’s exactly what’s needed to prevent a recurrence of flooding.

“They don’t want us to increase the creeks to accommodate anything. Our point is, we just want to restore them back to what they were.”

Marston said the emerald ash borer effect on Island trees has been devastating. Downed trees and silt are plugging the waterways, and regulations discourage the extent of the cleanup that is needed.

“There are so many rural, wooded areas where these things just aren’t being cleaned out,” he said. “There’s fallen trees packed in with mud and debris,” keeping the creeks from flowing as they used to.

Highway Superintendent Dick Crawford said that, without relief from state regulations, flooding will continue.

“Our storm sewers, as part of the road system, are all clean and clear. But when we get that much melting and rain, the creeks back up and there’s nowhere for the water to go,” Crawford said. “So until that settles down, then the creeks start to drain, we get relief then.”

He said that situation is understandably problematic to the homeowner affected by the flooding.

“We respect their viewpoint,” Crawford said.

Both Marston and Crawford said state regulations tie the town’s hands in fixing the problem.

Crawford said the Department of Environmental Conservation is the agency whose regulations are restricting the necessary remediation work that would open the creeks back up.

The two town officials said Grand Island isn’t the only community affected. Other municipalities would benefit from an easing of the restrictions that hamper cleanup of creeks and streams.

The triple threat to Grand Island, Marston said, is “the ash borer, the clay basis, and we have no elevation.”

“Back in the day … the farmers really kept the drainage working here. They need to keep their property viable, and before restrictions, they would go out and they would clean the creeks and they worked. When it rains, it got wet, but it went somewhere, to the river,” he said. “But now, that just doesn’t happen.”

Marston was at a housing summit the week of the flooding.

“The governor talked about initiatives to make areas more development-friendly, which I’m not particularly fond of that,” he said.

Marston noted Gov. Kathy Hochul, at the same time, is increasing regulations – a scenario he sees as contradictory.

“Again, I’m not looking to overdevelop, by any means, but I said right out, we couldn’t even consider developing until we fix what we have, back to where it was,” he said.

Marston explained he learned at workshops and focus groups at the state housing summit that everybody in a small rural town like Grand Island has the same problems. They complain about restrictions and “losing ground to wetlands because the creeks don’t work,” he said.

“Restrictions are probably a little bit stronger on us because we actually feed into the river, which is a Class A water stream. It changes the dynamic of what we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do. Because the whole premise behind streams and creeks is that they actually filter the water before they get to the bigger body of water.”

Marston said the town keeps a small annual contingency fund – the amount dependent on what projects the town needs to do. More is needed to resolve the drainage issues that the town is prioritizing.

Crawford said they are working on short-term solutions, but the longer-term needs of the town is what they are really focusing on.

“We have enough talent to help ourselves,” Marston said in describing the staffing of the relevant departments in solving the drainage issues. “There are certainly things that will be over our head, but we can certainly help ourselves. … We’ve talked to our grant writers; there’s some opportunity out there for grants for a small town to do some things.”

He added, “We’re trying to engage all our hierarchy of officials who have member money and can steer funds around. We want to impress on them that this is really a high priority for Grand Island.

“I consider this the silent infrastructure of Grand Island.”

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