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Backhoes are still at work along the Ausable River (PHOTOS:  BRIAN MANN)
Backhoes are still at work along the Ausable River (PHOTOS: BRIAN MANN)

Reconstruction work begins on Ausable River and its tributaries

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In the weeks following tropical storm Irene, environmental groups blasted state and local officials for dredging and straightening sections of the Ausable River. The work was done in an effort to prevent future flooding and to protect neighborhoods in Keene, Jay and Ausable Forks. But critics say the dredging damaged crucial fish habitat and gave the river an unnatural appearance. As Todd More reports, efforts have now begin to restore the Ausable.

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This man-made weir on Johns Brook is designed to accelerate the current, preventing a build-up of silt and debris.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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More than four months after tropical storm Irene slammed the Adirondacks, backhoes are still at work in the Ausable River, moving boulders and taking out debris. State and federal agencies have begun an effort to restore the Ausable and some its tributaries that were damaged by the storm and by the dredging efforts that followed.

Madeline Little is a fisheries biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She spent much of the last week working on a stretch of Johns Brook in the town of Keene. 
"Our goal was to move the water through the bridge faster. Primarily we're trying to focus the flow, so we put in a weir," she said. 

A weir is a structure of rock that narrows the channel.  Little says restoration work has begun on five different streams so far, with more work expected next spring. "We kind of wanted to wait until next year to see what happens," she said." "Right now we see the bottom of the river is almost like marbles. Everythign is moving and shifting. So it's best for us to sit back and watch the stream do what it needs to do and then we can go in and say, 'okay this is how the stream has recovered or this is the channel it wants to be in and this is how we'll address it.'"

The fact that stream restoration work is already underway drew praise from environmental groups. But Dan Plumley, a Keene resident who works for Adirondack Wild, says the clean-up effort will need more support from Albany and Washington DC. "It's going to cost a lot of money to finish the job and we've only started on 3 to 5 locations out of probably more than 100 that are going to need remediation in the long term," Plumley argued.

Reconstruction work so far has been done as partnership between the US Fish and Wildlife Service, New York state and Essex County.

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