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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

Malone looks to buy out damaged homes

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Lower Park Street in Malone has been reopened to traffic again. It's been closed numerous times this winter, because flooding has left the road impassable. It's also destroyed a handful of houses. Town leaders have been looking at getting the river dredged, to prevent future floods. But federal officials say it might make sense just to buy out the homeowners.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

This part of the Salmon River, just downstream of the village of Malone, has flooded again and again since at least the 1950s.

Ronnie Benware bought his house on Lower Park Street in the late 1970s. He says the flooding has gotten worse.

At this point in time yes, I would like a buyout, yes. For the simple fact that I'm getting older and I can't put up with it anymore.
"It used to flood years ago, when it would get, the winters were different, we'd have 30 to 40 degree below zero weather, so we'd have water problems, but not like we have today."

This year, the channel jammed with ice for 4,000 feet. The river couldn't get through, so it jumped its banks, and flooded homes. Five or six are considered unlivable.

Howard Maneely is the Malone town supervisor. He says the river has "got to be dredged."

Maneely says silt has accumulated in the river, and it needs to be removed. He talked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about dredging last year, even before this winter's flooding.

Robert Remmers is with the Army Corps in Buffalo. He says before they could dredge the Salmon River in Malone, they would first need $100,000 for a study. Remmers doesn't know what that would find - it might recommend a multi-million dollar river dredging project, or something cheaper, like building levee walls along the river banks.

"They do a cost-to-benefit analysis when they do projects. And if the cost is way excessive compared to the benefits gained, the project would likely not go forward."

To find out, the town would need a federal sponsor to pay for the study. And so far, that hasn't happened.

Congressman Bill Owens has been working with folks in Malone about what to do.

"We don't want to be in a scenario, I don't think, where we go the Army Corps route, and find out it's going to take three or four more years, and we have three or four more floods."

Owens says it might make more sense to buyout some of the affected homeowners on Lower Park Street.

David Werner agrees. He was district manager for Niagara Mohawk in Malone for more than twenty years. The power company owned dams along the Salmon River, and dealt with many floods.

"I guess my gut feeling is, if you've got 10 homes, and the value of the 10 homes is couple hundred thousand dollars, which is probably relatively close. You don't spend $2.5 million."

The value of the effected properties is under some dispute. But many of the homeowners on Lower Park Street are ready for a buyout.

Ronnie Benware never wanted to talk about leaving. Now that's changed.

"At this point in time yes, I would like a buyout, yes. For the simple fact that I'm getting older and I can't put up with it anymore. I can't take it."

Franklin County and the Town of Malone don't have money to buy out the homeowners. But they're applying for funding through the state. Congressman Owens says the federal government may also be able to help - with money through FEMA or the Army Corps of Engineers. Leaders hope to get people out of the damaged area before next winter.

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