SARANAC LAKE - Fueled by more rain and a continuing swell of water coming down from the Saranac Lake chain of lakes, Lake Flower and the Saranac River has risen even higher, flooding more homes, businesses and roads in the village and forcing more evacuations.
"We don't have a lot of good news on the elevation of the water," Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost said at a Thursday night press conference at the Saranac Lake firehouse. Provost said the lake level at the Main Street bridge-dam had gone up 4 to 5 inches since 6 a.m. Thursday morning. Village Manager John Sweeney said the lake was rising a quarter-inch to a half-inch per hour.
"We'd definitely like to have the impoundment area (Lake Flower) lowered by now," Provost said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened, and we've gone the other direction. We're kind of at wit's end with getting rid of the water."
The swollen Saranac River has reached the bottom of the windows in the dining area of the former Dew Drop Inn, seen here Thursday evening.
(Enterprise photos — Chris Knight)
The surge of water into Lake Flower continues to be driven by what's happening upstream, where the river goes right over the two state Department of Environmental Conservation locks, near Oseetah Lake and at Middle Saranac Lake.
"Until things drain out a little bit, it's probably going to continue to do that," said DEC Forest Ranger Julie Harjung.
Sweeney said the amount of water coming over DEC's lower lock is 140 cubic feet more per second than the village is able to discharge at the Lake Flower dam. The dam's floodgates were open 64 inches as of Thursday night, but village officials were hesitant to open them any further for fear of causing more erosion to a peninsula behind the Water Department building, which is crossed by a village water main. Sweeney said the village has positioned an excavator and other equipment and supplies near the site "to get ready for if something happens."
Village and county officials have said they believe the Lake Flower dam, which has been inspected by DEC, is not at risk of failure. But they remain concerned about the stress being put on the bridge that crosses the dam, which has been closed to vehicles and pedestrians for two days.
Provost said Thursday that they're now worried about another bridge below the dam.
"Right now we're seeing the highest point at the Dorsey Street bridge that we've seen since we've been here," he said. "The water's hitting the structural steel at (the bottom of the) Dorsey Street bridge."
Weather forecasts predict little to no rain through the weekend, but the river is showing no signs yet of letting up. By 8 p.m. last night it had reached the bottom of the windows of the dining area of the former Dew Drop Inn, which many people have been using to gauge the height of the river. The water also moved further into areas it had already inundated: the parking lot behind Community Bank, next to the Scott's Florist building and into the parking lot of the Warehouse shopping plaza on Woodruff Street.
Police and firefighters had asked people who live on Dorsey Street to evacuate their homes Wednesday, but few heeded the request. Saranac Lake Fire Chief Brendan Keough said Thursday that people eventually left three apartment buildings along the river - 28 Broadway, 36 Dorsey Street and 68 Dorsey Street - after code enforcement "basically insisted they be evacuated." Keough also said power has been shut off to about 12 homes or businesses that could be in jeopardy of flooding or have flooded basements with electrical hazards. Residents of some of those buildings were also evacuated.
Farther downstream, the river overwhelmed part of the village's wastewater treatment plant. Sewer plant operator Kevin Pratt said the facility's primary clarifier had to be shut down.
"It's the wash tanks before the effluent goes out to the river - they're flooded," he said. "They can't discharge into the river because the river is too high. The plant is still in operation, and we still have primary and secondary treatment, but it's probably going to be a violation of DEC regulations because there's suspended solids going out to the river."
The rate of stormwater and sewer flows into the plant Thursday topped 5.7 million gallons, Pratt said. The normal flow is 1.7 million gallons per day.
Meanwhile, "We have hundreds and hundreds of flooded basements," said village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. "A lot of the basements had goods in them, so there's damage there. As far as structural damage to houses, I'm not aware of any right now, though water damage is just as costly."
As he spoke with the Enterprise, Rabideau was inspecting damage caused by the rising lake level on Duprey Street.
"It's up over the foundation on one of the houses," he said. "We're going to shut off power to a couple houses here. It's flooding houses on Duprey Street, and that means it's very close to the level of Route 86, Lake Flower Avenue."
One house on Duprey Street was almost completely surrounded by water. It is owned by Mary Beth Wigger of Maryland, according to her mother Lena, who lives across the street.
Lena Wigger said this isn't the first time the lake has risen up around that house, which she and her husband Bill used to live in. She found a 1971 article from the Enterprise that shows a picture of her husband standing next to the house, surrounded by water.
"Since then, this is the first time it's gotten that high," Wigger said. "I called my daughter and they're going to try to come up this weekend, but there's not much they can do."
Down the street, a crew of DEC workers joined with employees of Swiss Marine to put sandbags around the marina's shop.
"We're just trying to keep the water out of the shop as best as we can," said Tom Gannon, who works at the marina. "It's going to flood, but as long as we can try to keep some of the stuff dry."
The lake also rose at Gauthier's Saranac Lake Inn, where two of the motel's rooms had water damage Wednesday.
"Now it's nine rooms and a finished basement on another building that are under a couple inches of water," co-owner Doug Brownell said Wednesday morning as he put more sandbags in front of the motel. "We didn't think yesterday we'd have to do this far. I don't think anybody was ready for it."
At Fogarty's Lake Flower Marina, the water had reached halfway into the parking lot, full of boats on trailers, and swamped the marina's shop.
"It can't go too much higher or I won't be too happy about it," owner Terence Fogarty said. "The shop's got probably 8 inches of water in the back; now it's almost into our store. We sandbagged the doors. Everything's up off the floor here, but we're watching it. I don't think we'll suffer too much damage, but that depends on how high it goes up."
There was at least an inch of standing water in the road at the intersection of River Street, Lake Flower Avenue and Brandy Brook Avenue during the day Thursday, but the roads remained open to traffic. Rabideau joined a crew of firefighters and DEC workers that was putting down a line of sandbags across nearby Slater Avenue and through the parking lot of NBT Bank, which closed early due to the flooding. A portion of Slater Avenue was also closed to vehicle traffic.
Dozens of village, town and county workers, firefighters, DEC employees and volunteers have been working to keep the flood waters at bay, many of them in sandbagging crews that fanned out across the village. More than 7,000 sandbags have been placed so far.
A total of 30 agencies have been involved in the emergency response effort including seven fire departments from northern Franklin County that were called up to assist on Thursday. DEC Region 5 spokesman David Winchell said the department had planned a training session for a large group of seasonal workers; instead, they were sent out to help mitigate the flooding.
"I'm very impressed by this effort," Rabideau said. "There's a lot of different governmental agencies involved, but everybody's working together and it's very coordinated. It's a tremendous testament to the greater community."
State emergency management officials were expected to visit the village this morning to assess the situation.
Rabideau said he's hopeful the flood waters will subside, but he admitted that it could be more than just a couple of days before that happens.
"It may take a week; it might take two weeks, I'm told, for all the flood waters to come down and for the lake level and river to assume their natural levels," he said. "So we'll have to wait and see."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.