For decades editors have told me not to use the word “elderly,” because it is both subjective and derogatory, an edict that I have afforded the same bland indifference with which I semi-acknowledge a dental hygienist who has just pressured me to floss.
But at a public hearing over a Ticonderoga public works project this week, a young woman was decrying new curbing that had facilitated the formation of ice and caused her to fall. She was OK because she was young, she said, but — and here she pointed to her neighbor, not much older than me — “this elderly gentleman” might not be as lucky.
He gave her a look, but didn’t say anything. I got to admit, though, that kind of stung. Still, the Adirondacks is filled with little hikes suitable for us elderly folk.
I used to think some of these short but interesting jaunts like Essex Quarry or Cathedral Pines as beneath my dignity, but now that I’m elderly I revel in these, and other perks of the infirm.
The Whallonsburg Grange Lyceum has announced “Beneath the Surface: Salmon in the Boquet River,” a program on the return of landlocked Atlantic salmon to the Boquet River, set for Tuesday, October 15th, at 7:30 pm. This program is part of the Grange’s fall series “Hidden in Plain Sight.” » Continue Reading.
An expanse of 2,434 acres of Adirondack foothills at the headwaters of the Boquet River, including streams, ponds, and mature forest, has been protected.
The new Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve part of a large, intact forest that connects the High Peaks to lower elevation lands near Lake Champlain. Surrounding protected areas include New York State’s Jay Mountain Wilderness and Taylor Pond Wild Forest (home to the local landmark, Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain), as well as other privately conserved lands.
The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy joined forces with a group of student veterans from Paul Smith’s College recently to hang trail signs, clear trash and perform other tasks to get the Boquet River Nature Preserve ready for the season.
The Nature Conservancy purchased an additional 10 acres in Willsboro, structuring the transaction to protect forestland, enhance outdoor recreation, and make it possible for Makers Guild Inc., a new nonprofit, to acquire a former grocery store building.
In advance of the purchase, the Conservancy worked with the landowner — a commercial real estate broker — and the town zoning board to subdivide an 11-acre tract into two parcels, allowing for continued development in the town’s main travel corridor. » Continue Reading.
Officials from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have announced that 2014 assessment results show continued gains in the Lake Champlain landlocked Atlantic salmon fishery restoration program.
The three groups, which work together on restoration efforts as the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, reported to the press a number of highlights from recent evaluation activities that indicate further improvement to the lake’s salmon population. One primary indicator is the strength of annual spawning runs – which produced several record or near-record numbers in 2014. Some of the key data includes: » Continue Reading.
Shortly after moving to the Adirondacks in 1996, I climbed Giant Mountain. Not only was it my first High Peak, it was the first time I’d climbed anything higher than the hill in the back yard where I grew up.
While incredibly rewarding, the hike was harder than I had imagined even though I was a fit, thirty-year-old marathon runner. It was humbling. Nevertheless, like many others before me, I was hooked on the Adirondack Mountains, and I wanted more.
That same year Grace Leach Hudowalski celebrated her ninetieth birthday, an occasion covered in the local papers. I’d never heard of Grace or the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, but I was smitten by the photo of her beaming with her birthday cake, proudly sporting her Forty-Sixer patch. » Continue Reading.
On Friday I hiked Grace Peak (formerly East Dix) from Route 73 in Keene Valley. Look for the stone bridge that crosses the Boquet River, there is small parking area right after the bridge. The herd path starts along the South side of the river and continues along the North and South Fork. The path is unmarked but very easy to follow. This part of the Dix Mountain wilderness is beautiful open forest with mostly flat terrain. To reach the summit you can take the slide or continue along the herd path to the col between Grace and Carson (South Dix).
“It is unfortunate that dredging has proceeded without any guidance from river experts who could provide natural stream dimensions based on a rapid assessment of natural bankfull, pool depth and riffle spacing. Measurements that could be done in a few hours and eliminate years of lost habitat,” stated Carol Treadwell, Executive Director of the Ausable River Association (ARA).
Natural stream dimensions? Bankfull? Pool depth? Riffle spacing? What is this, a how-to manual? A certain amount of assembly required? Or a level of river awareness and fluency that any floodplain community had better strive for? It is understandable why the small streams and rivers in this heavily damaged region of the Adirondacks (twice this year) may be viewed as marauding aliens and enemies which require a serious “talking to” by backhoe. The human and community impacts of the flood are enormous and gut wrenching.
Yet, post World War Two we keep building in floodplains, whether we know we are or not. A favored textbook reads: “The average annual flood damage nationwide… has continued to increase… The use of flood-prone land continues to rise faster than the application of measures to reduce flood damages. This continues to be one of the foremost challenges to land planners – finding ways to control the use of flood-prone areas, and ways of requiring those who seek the advantages of use of floodable areas to assume a fair proportion of the financial risk involved in such use” (Water in Environmental Planning, by Thomas Dunne and Luna Leopold, 1978).
Carol’s quote was submitted for a news release issued this week by a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals who live in these communities, along with a letter to Governor Cuomo seeking an end to floodplain management by bulldozer, and a meeting to assess how best to respond to the altered nature of these waterways in ways that are mindful of people, property, stream health, aesthetics and tourism on which so many of these towns and Essex County depend.
Carol denotes an apparent lack of “river experts” and related oversight of the heavy earth moving equipment moving about our region’s streams during the Governor’s month-long emergency authorization. The Ausable River Association has spent years studying the Ausable. Similarly, the Boquet River Association on the Boquet. NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency know something about the behavior and morphology of rivers and floodplains. NYS DOT has environmental experts who know how to manage highway rights of way without taking a proverbial two by four to the environment. So, where are they? It was good to read that the Essex County Board of Supervisors is calling on these experts to help them assess and, if necessary, adjust the in-stream work as may be necessary. Governor Cuomo should have had his environmental experts in the field overseeing any stream work a month ago.
Yet, our state agency experts and field managers at DEC, APA, DOT still seem unable to respond in a coordinated, effective fashion, despite the fact that the Emergency Authorization issued by NYS DEC on that fateful Sunday, August 29 states: “This Authorization hereby allows emergency work to occur in navigable waters, streams and wetlands regulated under Environmental Conservation Law Article 15 and Article 24. The work hereby allowed must be immediately necessary to address an imminent threat to life, health, property, the general welfare and natural resources. All work carried out under this Authorization must be conducted in a minimally invasive manner, consistent with the goals of the restoration work. Non‐critical work is not allowed by this Authorization. All work must be undertaken in compliance with the conditions below.”
The emergency authorization and all conditions for working in the rivers is found at the DEC website. Based on what Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild has observed, many of these conditions are being violated every day, but this assumes that the equipment operators understand the conditions, and that DEC is on-site to explain them, which it appears not to be.
There is probably a strong difference of opinion whether the work to date has been “minimally invasive” and necessary to address imminent threat. At the same time, the workers in the streams and their supervisors are doing all they can with the information and resources at hand. Which gets me back to Carol Treadwell’s quote: “natural stream dimensions based on a rapid assessment of natural bankfull, pool depth and riffle spacing. Measurements that could be done in a few hours and eliminate years of lost habitat.”
What is she talking about? I return to and quote from Dunne and Leopold’s Water in Environmental Planning (1978). Rivers construct their own floodplains, laterally migrate, and deposit lots of sediment in the process. Over a very long process of movement the river occupies each and every position on the flat valley floor, with the river moving laterally by erosion on one bank and deposition on the other. That is the meander that rivers want to achieve as their way of expending energy most efficiently. In fact, really straight stretches of river (absent human channelization) are rare “and seldom does one see a straight reach of length exceeding 10 channel widths.”
Yet, the river does not construct a channel large enough to accommodate flood stages. The bankfull stage referred to by Carol “corresponds to the river discharge at which channel maintenance is most effective, that is the discharge at which moving sediment, forming or removing bars, forming or changing bends and meanders, and generally doing work that results in the average morphologic characteristics of (river) channels.”
The authors Dunne and Leopold continue: “It is human encroachment on the floodplains of rivers that accounts for the majority of flood damage. Because it is a natural attribute of rivers to produce flows that cannot be contained within the channel, the floodplain is indeed a part of the river during such events. It is therefore important that planners know something about these characteristic features, and thus possibly counteract to some degree the emphasis placed on flood-control protection works. More logical is flood damage prevention by the restriction of floodplain use.”
In short straight sections in between meanders, stream pools and riffles alternate in consistent ways due to the creation of gravel bars on the convex side of a meander. “The distance between successive bars averages five to seven channel widths.” The alteration of steep (over the riffles) and less steep water (over the pools) is characteristic of rivers, as is the fact that meanders are steeper than the average straight section. I think this is the “pool-riffle spacing” Carol is speaking of. She may be suggesting that in-stream work should seek to maintain this kind of pool-riffle spacing, and ensure that stream slopes are not severely altered.
The worst thing to do, according to Dunne and Leopold, is to severely shorten a river channel with consequent change in channel gradient. “An imposed change of river slope can cause an instability quite irreversible in any short period of time, and is the most difficult change to which a stream must adjust.” It appears this is exactly what heavy equipment operators did to Johns Brook, and may be doing to other stream sections.
The authors’ conclusions may be ones which Governor Cuomo, DOT, DEC, APA, and Essex County should pay particular attention to: “Among the potential costs or disadvantages accruing from channel modification are: 1. Channel instability or effects of channel readjustment to the imposed conditions; 2. Downstream effects especially increased bank erosion, bed degradation or aggradation; 3. Esthetic degradation, especially the change in stream biota and the visual alteration of riparian vegetation, and of stream banks and channel pattern or form.”
Photos: Johns Brook, Keene, before and after channel dredging and grading by state-funded heavy equipment, photos by Naj Wikoff.
It is heartening to know that Governor Cuomo has twice visited Keene Valley, and other Adirondack communities so hard hit by the hurricane. And to see that Rt. 73’s rebuilding in St. Hubert’s, and along its corridor to Lake Placid has become a high state priority. Clearly, the Governor is doing his utmost to release emergency aid for homes, businesses, roads, bridges and other critical needs.
I am puzzled, however, by the instinct in this Governor to order that environmental permits from agencies like the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency be waived. Governor Cuomo announced August 30 that “government needs to do all it can to help devastated communities and homeowners get back on their feet,” but that doing so also means that government must “get out of the way and allow for quick rebuilding and restoration.” It is as if those DEC or APA permits are fifty-foot high obstacles to getting reconstruction or restoration work done, and have absolutely nothing to do with the quality, effectiveness or durability of the work. It is as if DEC and APA field personnel want merely to push papers as obstacles to cleaning up and restoring the communities in which they and their families also live and work. It is as if government is there to only throw money, but not good, experienced minds, at emergency situations. It is as if the quickest action in an emergency is assumed to be the best action.
I disagree with those premises. I don’t think recent history in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill would suggest that the quickest action in an emergency is always the best action. Both DEC and APA staff, for instance, have demonstrated an ability in the past to issue permits from the field, and rapidly in emergency circumstances while influencing decisions which, from an environmental, engineering, economic and other perspectives may save time, money, labor and environmental quality in the short and longer-term. For example, emergency work done in a stream or river bed, or along its banks can be done in ways which appear to help the situation in the short-term, but which actually make matters far worse downstream in the mid or longer-term. Both DEC and APA, as well as the Ausable River and Boquet River Associations and others, are trained and knowledgeable in how rivers work in general and particular (fluvial dynamics), enough to offer practical as well as prudent permit advice which addresses both the immediate and longer-term problem. Where and how to reconstruct may not be as much about butting heads as it is about adding heads from varying disciplines to reach better decisions. APA and DEC staff should be part of that mix.
Of course, Governor Cuomo and his aides might have thought that there are so few DEC and APA regional permitting staff that it would be near impossible to get field involvement or permit decisions made in a timely fashion to address the emergencies across DEC Region 5. If so, I think that sells his own state personnel short. The efficient teamwork at DEC Region 5 and at the APA has been tested often by storms of all kinds in this and past decades, and performed remarkably well – and there has never been a decade I have seen where DEC or APA had enough staff – and there never will be one.
Furthermore, local governments and agencies attempting to reconstruct want clarity about what is required or expected, as much as any regulated business wants to know what is expected of them. The Governor’s announcement of the waiver of permits may have the unintended consequence of injecting confusion into an already confused situation. It cautions that reconstruction, restoration and other work should be sensitive not to unnecessarily harm or damage natural resources. For instance, would a town supervisor or engineer find clarity or confusion in the following words contained in the Governor’s press release:
“Permitting for construction and repair projects in these areas is suspended. When possible, work should be undertaken in consultation with the DEC to ensure that the project will be carried out in a manner that will cause the least adverse impact to natural resources. To consult on environmental impacts in the wake of Hurricane Irene, individuals and businesses may contact the Regional Environmental Permits Office.”
Local government might be forgiven if it misinterpreted these words as “DEC will get out of the way, but rest assured, I had better call them, they sure as heck won’t be calling me, but their eyes will be burning into the back of my head.”
Wouldn’t it better to have the clarity and certainty of regulators working in the field with the authority to both consult on difficult restoration and reconstruction work and to issue field permits for reasonably well thought-out solutions that take environmental conditions into account?
The Governor’s statement releasing communities in this emergency from the burdens of government regulation perversely also contains the following regulatory language: “In an effort to keep overall cleanup costs to a minimum and to reduce the overall impacts from the disaster debris it is important that those conducting the cleanup be mindful to separate out those waste materials which are benign or exempt from regulation, such as tree branches and limbs, from other more environmentally concerning debris during the cleanups. Care should be taken to set aside such materials as household hazardous waste, gasoline containers and propane canisters and other regulated solid wastes that would require special handling.”
In general, I think that waiving environmental permit requirements in an emergency like this in the Adirondack Park, with all the cautions and caveats thrown in, is
• unnecessary to getting good work done reasonably quickly
• insulting to knowledgeable, experienced DEC and APA regional permitting staff
• conducive to making quick decisions that may have negative consequences
• inimical to a place as important as the Adirondack Park
I hasten to add that I am ready to be proved wrong or ill informed, and that DEC and APA staff are actually in the field helping their local counterparts where help is needed or requested, with or without permits in hand. I also hasten to add that the Governor’s press release also may have contained helpful information that “DEC is also providing general assistance and guidance to help local communities address damaged facilities, debris disposal and solid waste. DEC has developed guidance for storm-related waste from damaged areas. Responsible parties should contact the DEC regional office for specific project applications.”
The Ausable and Boquet River Associations (AsRA and BRASS) will host native plant sales offering gardeners a selection of plants native to northern NY and the Adirondacks. A Master Gardener will also be present to offer gardening advice.
BRASS will host a sale tomorrow, on Friday, June 25 from 9-1pm at the Elizabethtown Farmer’s Market located on Hand Avenue. AsRA will host a sale this Sunday, June 27 from 9-2pm at the Keene Valley Farmer’s Market located at Marcy Field. » Continue Reading.
As Almanack contributor Alan Wechsler reported yesterday, the big rain we had on Monday has wrecked havoc on Adirondack winter recreation. Alan noted that ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and local ski resorts were particularly hard hit (West Mountain just south of the Blue Line was forced to close), and to those we should add snowmobiling, as many trails around the region are all but impassable. Even the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival felt the pain, when rain seriously damaged this year’s Ice Palace necessitating builders to almost start from scratch. Over the past two days the region’s nearly 30,000 miles of streams, brooks, and rivers have gathered volume and strength. In Washington County the Mettawee and Hoosic Rivers have flooded their banks, and the Batten Kill is near flood stage. The Hudson and Schroon Rivers are running very high and the Boquet has topped it’s banks, but the most serious flooding has occurred in the Franklin County community of Fort Covington where flooding along the Salmon River has threatened a number of buildings and required evacuations.
Those interested in accessing information about what is happening to streams in your local area as a result of the heavy rain can access the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) streamgage network, which operates a nationwide system of about 7,000 streamgauges that monitor water level and flow. Streamgages transmit real-time information, which the National Weather Service uses to issue local flood warnings, and which paddlers in the know can use to estimate conditions. Some streamgauges have been operational since the early 1900s; the gauge just upstream from the Route 22 bridge over the Boquet, for instance, has been recording since 1923.
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