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Ice jams on the Salmon River near Malone have resulted in multiple floodings along Lower Park St. over the years. This year, a number of homes may never be suitable for habitation again. Photos: Franklin County EMS
Ice jams on the Salmon River near Malone have resulted in multiple floodings along Lower Park St. over the years. This year, a number of homes may never be suitable for habitation again. Photos: Franklin County EMS

With recurring floods, what's next in Malone

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Leaders with town of Malone hope to meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the next week, to talk about the flooding along Lower Park Street. The on-again, off-again cold weather this winter has meant a series of emergency declarations in Malone.

When the mercury has dipped below zero, the Salmon River jams with ice. That means the water jumps its banks, flooding homes. Public officials are figuring out why the river jams have gotten so bad, and what to do next.

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This is the same house during the flooding in December 1977. Photo: provided by Dave Werner.

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Julie Grant
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Here is the same house, earlier in this year's flood, before the garage was undermined by flood water.
Here is the same house, earlier in this year's flood, before the garage was undermined by flood water.
About five or six families will never live in their homes on Lower Park Street in Malone again. The Salmon River spent a good part of this winter jumping out its bed, and running through theirs. It's left some houses flooded through the first floor, with frozen pipes, contaminated wells, and no longer livable.

Longtime resident Ronnie Benware is one of the lucky ones. The river water got as high as his porch, but it didn't get into the house. Benware's even moved the ladies who live in his nursing home back this week.

But the experience has left him with hard feelings.

"Disenheartened, disgusted. Because while part of this is Mother Nature at its best, this a manmade deal. It's a manmade problem that was overlooked. And all the people now that live on Lower Park are suffering for big business, actually."

This is the same house during the flooding in December 1977. Photo: provided by Dave Werner.
This is the same house during the flooding in December 1977. Photo: provided by Dave Werner.
Benware is talking, in part, about Niagara Mohawk, which used to own dams along the Salmon River. In 1997, Niagara Mohawk released a large amount of silt from behind the Chasm Falls Dam, about 10 miles upstream. Many people who live around here say that silt has choked the river.

Ricky Provost is director of Emergency Management for Franklin County.

"Back 15 or 20 years ago, the channel was 20 feet deep, now the channel is 4 feet deep."

Provost says such a small channel gets blocked easily. This year the ice jam was 4000 feet long.

It forces the river to travel the path of least resistance... down this road.
"It forces the river to travel the path of least resistance, and unfortunately the path of least resistance was down this road."

Malone town supervisor Howard Maneely makes no bones about it - the flooding is Niagara Mohawk's fault.

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

Dredging the river could clear out silt, but it would cost up to $2.5 million. Maneely says Malone doesn't have that kind of money. And some experts say it might not solve the problem.

"Back in the '70s and '80s, we had this flooding on Lower Park, same place it's doing it now."

Dave Werner was district manager for Niagara Mohawk in Malone for more than twenty years. He retired before the silt drop. But he has pictures to show the Salmon River flooded back then, even before the incident.

"The river running down the road, the ice all over, the water up a couple of feet on the side of the houses. It happened again in '82, it happened again in '84, and that was all before this release of silt from the Chasm Falls Dam."

Werner says dredging would be a waste of money, because it won't solve the problem. We've posted photos are on our website, so you can compare the 1977 flooding to this year's ice jam.

Franklin County emergency officials say it's gotten worse, and that the ice has never stretched 4000 feet before. They say it was only luck that saved the Malone village sewage deposal site from flooding and contaminating the river.

Town supervisor Howard Maneely says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants Malone to do a $100,000 study of the Salmon River. But Maneely says the town doesn't have the money.

"We know the problem. We don't need a study. We need action."

Niagara Mohawk paid for a study after the silt incident. Virginia Limmiatis is spokesperson for National Grid, which now owns Niagara Mohawk. She says the power company signed a consent decree with the State Department of Environmental Conservation after the 1997 silt release. In it, the company agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and for a $150,000 dollar study of the River in Malone.

"We paid for the plan under the consent decree, but implementation, the process of approval and implementation is with the current parties who currently own the asset, as well as the DEC."

Malone supervisor Howard Maneely says the town has never seen any of the money, or any results from the study. We asked the DEC for an interview, but the agency declined.

It's also hard to get answers from the power companies, and ownership of the Chasm Falls dam complicates things.

Two years after the silt incident, Niagara Mohawk sold the Dam to Erie Boulevard Hydro-Power.

Federal documents filed just last fall show Erie was still finalizing a sediment management plan with the DEC, based on the silt drop 15 years earlier.

But Erie no longer owns the Chasm Falls Dam. It's now under the name Brookfield Renewable Energy. Brookfield wouldn't agree to an interview for this story. In a written statement, the company says the Salmon River is an important natural resource, and quote,

"We are glad to participate in an open dialogue with these stakeholders on the flooding that has been impacting our neighbors."

Back in Malone, Supervisor Howard Maneely isn't expecting any help from the power companies. But he's looking forward to the meeting with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"This is the first time they've given us hope."

What he hopes is for is help buying out 10 homeowners, and dredging the river, before next winter.

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