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Ronnie Benware outside his home on Lower Park Street in Malone.  Photo: Julie Grant
Ronnie Benware outside his home on Lower Park Street in Malone. Photo: Julie Grant

Flooded out, some Malone homeowners look for buyout

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Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed spending as much as $400 million to purchase homes wrecked by Hurricane Sandy. His plan is to have them demolished, and then preserve the flood-prone land permanently as undeveloped coastline.

The town of Malone would like to do something similar along the Salmon River, where a handful of houses were destroyed by flooding in the past couple of weeks.

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Julie Grant
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Ice jammed the Salmon River, and it jumped its banks, flooding out Lower Park Street in Malone.  Photo: Julie Grant
Ice jammed the Salmon River, and it jumped its banks, flooding out Lower Park Street in Malone. Photo: Julie Grant
Emergency officials re-opened Lower Park Street in Malone to traffic Monday morning. The short residential street runs along the Salmon River.

Ricky Provost is director of Franklin County Emergency Services. He says last week this road was the Salmon River.

"This was all water. This was all flooded area. There was water physically running down this road. The river was running down this road."

Provost says during the recent cold spell, it created a 4,000-foot-long ice jam. The running river water couldn't get through, so it jumped the banks, ran through people's back yards and the neighborhood park, and onto Lower Park Street.

Franklin County EMS director Ricky Provost.  Photo: Julie Grant
Franklin County EMS director Ricky Provost. Photo: Julie Grant
Provost says there's a lot more silt in the river than there used to be, so the river is more easily blocked.

"Back 15 or 20 years ago, the channel was 20 feet deep, now the channel is four feet deep and spread out over 100 feet wide, so when that frazil ice and the freezing slush comes down the river it plugs that small channel and unfortunately the path of least resistance this park and down this road."

Frazil ice is a kind of ice that forms in open, turbulent and very cold water (like a river) when air temperature dips below negative six degrees. It looks much like slush, and unlike normal ice, it doesn't float – instead, it's easily carried to the bottom of a water body, where it often sticks to other cold objects and is a frequent cause of flooding.

The river surrounded houses, flooding basements, and running through some first floor windows. People had to evacuate quickly.

Flooding has left this house on Lower Park St. in Malone uninhabitable.  Photo: Julie Grant
Flooding has left this house on Lower Park St. in Malone uninhabitable. Photo: Julie Grant
Private water wells and sewers were affected for a half mile up Lower Park Street. The state has provided pallets of bottled water, and emergency officials have been distributing it to about 25 homes.

Provost says he's never seen such a long ice jam, and he's amazed at how quickly it formed: Four thousand feet of ice in just two days. Now he and code enforcement officials are trying to figure which houses are safe, and which will never be habitable again.

Nearly all the houses are empty. But Ronnie Benware is around, checking out his house. He was one of the lucky ones.

"Structurally, I think I'm still good. All my neighbors, they are in a world of hurt, as far as cellars freezing, pipes, all this stuff."

The river water was up as high as Benware's porch, but it didn't get into the house or contaminate the well. He and his wife evacuated the four ladies who live in their home for the elderly, and they will have outdoor cleanup to tend to.

Benware has lived here since 1979. He says flooding like this happens so often in recent years, he's gotten sick of it. Benware isready for a buyout.

"At this point in time, yes. I would like a buyout for the simple fact that I'm getting older and I can't put up with it anymore, I can't take it. It's tough. And I never wanted to because this is a nice area."

Benware says the annual flooding leaves him with some bad feelings.

While part of this is Mother Nature at its best, this is a manmade deal. It's a manmade problem that was overlooked.
"Disenheartened, disgusted. Because while part of this is Mother Nature at its best, this is a manmade deal. It's a manmade problem that was overlooked."

Benware says the people who live on Lower Park are suffering because of "big business." Brookfield Renewable Energy owns the McComb Hydro Dam, just downstream. Benware and others say Brookfield isn't letting enough water over the dam, and that's one reason it's backing up along Lower Park Street.

Howard Maneely became town supervisor of Malone in the late 1990s, and he still holds the position.

Maneely says there's another reason for the flooding. The dam used to be owned by National Grid, formerly Niagara-Mohawk. Silt deposited behind the dam in 1997  left a channel that's only four feet deep

"They choked the river in '97. It's got to be dredged."

But dredging could cost millions of dollars, which Malone doesn't have. Maneely also supports buying out the houses on Lower Park. He's been talking with local state representatives, as well as Congressman Bill Owens, about finding help.

These are the kinds of discussions that need to take place in Malone over the long term. Emergency officials were more concerned about the weather last night - temperatures of negative 15 degrees could lead to more flooding on Lower Park Street today.

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