MALONE –– Federal, state and local officials met Tuesday afternoon in an effort find a potential fix for the annual flooding of the Salmon River.
The meeting, attended in person and virtually by roughly 30 representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state Departments of Environmental Conservation and Homeland Security & Emergency Services, as well as U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones and officials from Franklin County and the town and village of Malone, was intended to find “a collaborative path to move forward” with resolving the decades-long flooding problem, Town Supervisor Andrea Stewart said at the start of the 2 1/2-hour session she labelled the “Salmon River Summit.”
But at the end of the meeting, local officials were left facing many of the same obstacles that have stymied efforts to mitigate the flooding for years.
Representatives of the Corps and FEMA outlined some of the federal programs that might help pay for what most agree is the needed work to reduce or eliminate the flooding –– dredging of the shoals that have built up in the river and Lamica Lake through decades of sediment deposit.
An annual study of the river conducted by the Corps earlier this year found eight deficiencies –– four of them related to the shoaling. All four were considered unacceptable by the Corps. However, the shoaling is not covered under a clearing and snagging project dating from 1959 that allows the Corps to remove trees that have fallen and impede the river’s flow, said Robert Remmers, chief of operations and technical support from the Corps’ Buffalo office.
Dredging the river would be “beyond the scope of normal operations, for sure,” Remmers said.
Remmers and Boris Dason of FEMA outlined several possible sources of grant funding that might help the local effort to address the flooding problem, but in all cases, the application process is both lengthy and competitive. And Jones, who attended the meeting in person, noted that Congress has not funded one of the grant programs for several years.
“This is a priority project for our district, but the funding has not been there,” said Laura Ortiz of the Corps.
The town has received one grant that paid for a partial study of a possible dredging plan, but the work cannot move forward without additional funding. The study also does not address the entire scope of the problem, Remmers noted.
Stewart also pointed out that the various funding streams all have different deadlines and information requirements that make it very difficult to pursue multiple grants. Local officials are aware of many of the funding programs but “the various bureaucratic hoops … sometimes seem to stymie us,” she said.
“We need to get the right plan and get the right results,” she added.
Despite the lack of concrete progress, Stewart said she was encouraged by the meeting because it brought together for the first time many of the people and agencies that would play a role in any solution. The meeting also included representatives of Erie Boulevard Hydropower/Brookfield Renewable, who had previously not been involved in the discussions. Brookfield Renewable owns or controls the Macomb Dam at the mouth of Lamica Lake, the lake itself and approximately 2,100 feet of the river south of the lake - including the area where the most severe flooding generally occurs.
Stewart said she also plans to host smaller additional meetings at which specific concerns and proposals can be discussed.
“The problem is obvious,” said county Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost. “We just need to find a way to fix it.”