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A crew works in Keeseville (Photos:  Brian Mann)
A crew works in Keeseville (Photos: Brian Mann)

As flooding continues, teamwork keeps rural towns afloat

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The flooding crisis across northern New York and Vermont began more than a week ago and as we've been hearing there's still no end in sight.

State and local officials say their crews are weary and stretched thin as they continue to deal with evacuations, closed roads, and swamped sewer and water systems.

But they also say that this disaster has brought unprecedented levels of cooperation and coordination, with personnel shuttling between the hardest hit areas.

Brian Mann has that story this morning.

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A workers boots dry out in Saranac Lake

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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In the early days of the flooding, Caper Tissot was volunteering in Saranac Lake, stuffing and carrying sandbags. 

“It just reaffirms the good community spirit in this area.  Because once more there’s a crisis and once more people are out working together – everybody,” Tissot said.

Through the last week, that spirit has been visible everywhere. 

You’ll find fire crews from Malone in Tupper Lake.  Or a pumper truck from Westville working on the bank of the Saranac River. 

Saranac Lake fire chief Brendan Keough says the level of coordination over a huge geographic area may even have topped the big ice storm in 1998.

“I think the flood is nothing like anybody’s ever experience to this magnitude, so it’s been a learning process for all of us.  The cooperation has been huge between, from county, state, DPW crews, the DEC crews, the sandbag crews.  Everybody, it’s been phenomenal.”

You hear that sentiment across the region.  Tom Scozzafava is supervisor in the Champlain Valley town of Moriah.

“We have the state of New York Department of Transportation helping us right now repair an 18 inch sewer main, stabilizing it.  Whereas a year ago, that would have been unheard of.  There would have been so much red tape, you couldn’t have got em in here.”

Floods on this magnitude are surprisingly complicated events.  The Red Cross has set up shelters.  Dams and bridges need to be inspected.  Sewer plants have to be stabilized. 

Swamped basements mean hazardous situations with electrical systems and furnaces.  

State Senator Betty Little says officials in Albany have provided whatever expertise and support people asked for.

 “This is working together.  The response from the governor’s office, from all of the state agencies has been terrifice.  They’ve said ‘We can help, we can send equipment.  We can do what we need to do.  Let’s send engineers, let’s help out these people.’  And that’s what we needed.”

State transportation commissioner Joan McDonald says this kind of cooperation is what people expect in a crisis. 

“The traveling public doesn’t distinguish between a state road, a county road, a town road, and what’s important is that everybody came together to respond to an emergency situation.”

That’s meant people wearing a lot of different hats.  DEC commissioner Joe Martens says his crews have helped with everything from dam inspections to evacuations.

“DEC rangers have been out with local volunteers, laying sandbags where they’re needed.  And out assessing a lot of the other damage.  They’ve been out in boats removing debris that accumulates before dams.”

One reason that all this cooperation is so important is that many of these local governments and state agencies are cash-strapped. 

Thanks to the state’s economic crisis, all these organizations have laid off workers and are functioning on barebones budgets. 

Tom Scozzafava and Betty Little described this effort as a success but also as a kind of marriage of necessity.

“You know the government has stated that we need to share services and this is the proof.  I mean, we’re not looking for a blank check here.  We know the money is tight and if they have the resources to help our communities out, we’ll use those resources,” Scozzafava said.

“You  know sometimes the first reaction is to declare a state of emergency and see how much money we can get to restore this,” agreed Sen. Little.

“But I think we’ve gone beyond that.  What we’re doing is looking at how can we help right now?  How can we bring in equipment?  Our engineers tell you what you ought to be doing, what you can do, and how we can solve the issues.”

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