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Flash flooding from Irene scoured streams and created new slides in the Adirondack backcountry, as well as washing out man-made dams and creating new ones of flood debris. Photo: Chris Knight
Flash flooding from Irene scoured streams and created new slides in the Adirondack backcountry, as well as washing out man-made dams and creating new ones of flood debris. Photo: Chris Knight

Irene set records in the Adirondacks

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Yesterday's meeting of Adirondack Park Agency Commissioners was the first since Tropical Storm Irene unleashed havoc along some of the park's rivers. They got a briefing from agency staff on the damage to homes, businesses, roads and bridges and the agency's response.

Commissioners were also updated on Irene's impacts to the back-country, and efforts to reopen trails that were closed in the aftermath of the storm.

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APA Executive Director Terry Martino described the devastation as tremendous:

"The storm appeared to be stuck over the North Country as the day was unfolding," she said. "The devastation to homes, businesses and communities made us all take note of the force of water and the power of Mother Nature. We've also seen inspiration in how people and communities have come together in their response."

Rick Weber, the Park Agency's deputy director for Regulatory Programs, said several records were broken in the Ausable River basin during the storm.

"When I started looking into this, I was astounded by some of the numbers."

Citing National Weather Service information, Weber said Essex County saw between 6 and 10 inches of rain during a 24-hour period, with the highest amounts falling in the High Peaks.

Weber also provided data from a U.S. Geologic Survey gauging station on the AuSable River in AuSable Forks. The station recorded 48,500 cubic feet per second of water on Aug. 28, a flow that's well above the previous record of 37,400 cubic feet per second, set in 1996.

The gauge also recorded a height of 18.43 feet in the river the day after the storm, better than the previous record of 15 feet, also set in 1996.

DEC Regional Forester Tom Martin counted at least 24 new or expanded landslides carved on mountains in the High Peaks.

He also told the commissioners that two backcountry dams were damaged, many bridges were washed out and sections of trail were badly eroded or washed away. Trails in the eastern High Peaks, Giant Mountain and Dix Mountain wilderness areas were closed until they could be inspected, cleared and repaired.

"The majority of the trails are now open," Martin said. "We're working dilligently to get the rest of the trails open as soon as possible. It's my goal to have all of the trails passable for the general public by Columbus Day weekend."

APA staff and commissioners had stories about where they were during Irene, and what they've done to assist in the recovery effort. Martino said APA staff worked in Keene and Jay as part of Gov. Cuomo's volunteer campaign over the Labor Day weekend.

Commissioner Cecil Wray spent two days helping to clean up Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley.

"The remarkable thing is the incredible support from the community to all the people who suffered in the hurricane and lost property," Wray said. "People were really pitching in to help down there, which is wonderful to see."        

We’ll have more on the environmental impact of Irene Monday during regional news.

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