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A state Department of Transportation worker drives a loader while making repairs to the area along state Route 73 in downtown Keene on Sept. 5, 2011. Photo, Lou Reuter, Adirondack Daily Enterprise<br />
A state Department of Transportation worker drives a loader while making repairs to the area along state Route 73 in downtown Keene on Sept. 5, 2011. Photo, Lou Reuter, Adirondack Daily Enterprise

A year later, those involved say Irene response remarkable

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When Tropical Storm Irene hit the Adirondacks one year ago, state transportation crews and private contractors worked around the clock for nearly two weeks to repair damaged roads and washed out bridges in hard hit areas like Keene, Jay and AuSable Forks. All of those involved say the response to the disaster was unprecedented.

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Sections of state Route 73 in St. Huberts on Aug. 29, 2011. Photo: Naj Wikoff, Adirondack Daily Enterprise<br /> The DOT's Mike Fayette with Governor Andrew Cuomo, on August 30, 2011. Photo: Naj Wikoff, Adirondack Daily Enterprise An excavator and a boat crew from Champlain Contracting work to remove debris piled up behind and underneath the Route 73 bridge over the West Branch of the AuSable River in Lake Placid. Photo: Chris Knight, Adirondack Daily Enterprise<br />

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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Five days after Irene hit the North Country, a large excavator sat in the West Branch of the AuSable River, just outside of Lake Placid, pulling bucket after bucket of tree limbs and debris from behind and underneath the Route 73 bridge. Similar work was going on at bridge sites across the region, too. Much of the debris was hauled to Keene to be fed into a giant wood chipper set up at the base of Spruce Hill.

Mike Fayette is the state Department of Transportation’s resident engineer for Essex County. He remembers having crews, "probably 20 trucks, hauling all the daylight hours for a week straight, just feeding this thing."

That’s just one example of the massive response to Irene by crews of DOT workers and private contractors, all of whom worked at breakneck pace to repair and rebuild the road and bridge infrastructure ravaged by the storm. Fayette says DOT was actually gearing up for Irene more than a week before it hit, moving equipment and manpower into place. But all that preparation only went so far. "We like to think we can take care of everything, and you fight it for as long as you can, saying, 'I can take care of this, I can take care of this. He says crews were able to “hold on” for a while, but “it just turned into something we had never seen before."

As the rain poured down that Sunday, Fayette, who was stationed at his office in Elizabethtown, started getting reports of significant damage, particularly in the western portion of the county: Keene, Upper Jay and AuSable Forks: "I had all my supervisors out, relaying me information. There were places you just couldn't get to. There were places where they would get trapped a little bit and have to find ways to get back."

The following morning, teams of DOT workers from other parts of the state began to arrive. Private contractors, like Luck Brothers of Plattsburgh, were also called in. Ted Luck is the company’s president. He says the first thing his crews did was open up river channels that had been completely washed out, get that water flowing again, and reopen roads.

But he says the intensity of the damage was mindboggling. "I mean it just came so quick, I don’t think anybody expected it. We had the ice storm to deal with years ago, and dealt with cleaning brush and there was really no road damage and minor flooding over the years. But this is well beyond what I’ve ever seen in my career."

One of the biggest tasks the state faced was rebuilding Route 73 between Keene Valley and St. Huberts, where whole stretches of the road had been carved away by the floodwaters. Some initially said it would take two months to do the work; it was reopened in 10 days. Mike Fayette said he told Governor Cuomo the DOT could do it. "He wanted it open…We like challenges, and we were up for it."

Both Luck and Fayette said the governor's decision to suspend state environmental regulations in the wake of Irene was key to getting roads and bridges reopened and rebuilt as quick as possible.

Although DOT won a Public Service Excellence Award earlier this year for its response statewide to both Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, much of the work performed by its crews and the contractors who responded has largely gone unheralded.

Fayette says that's OK with him: "I'd never say people weren't appreciative of us…But I tell all my supervisors that if we do our job right, we're like a referee in football or an umpire in baseball: Nobody remembers us. They just remember the game."

 

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