MORIAH - Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared Essex County a disaster area, which will help rebuild after this week's devastating floods.
Cuomo came to Moriah, the town worst affected, just after noon on Friday, arriving by helicopter and touring two sites where bridges collapsed.
"It was breathtakingly bad," Cuomo said of the high water and collapsed roadways.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, talks with state Sen. Betty Little and Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas during a visit to Moriah Friday.
(Photo — Brian Mann)
A collapsed bridge near Moriah Central School
(Photo — Brian Mann)
"First we have to repair the damage and repair the damage as quickly as possible; then we'll do an assesment of total damage," he said.
Cuomo said, because of this declaration, the state will work to restore even those roads and bridges in Essex County that are owned and maintained by local governments.
"It opens up a bunch of state resources we might not have had otherwise," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas, D-Jay.
The declaration also opens the door to the state possibly being declared a federal disaster area, Douglas said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency would require $25 million in damage statewide before a federal disaster could be declared. Douglas guessed Essex County might have $10 to $12 million in damage, and with flooding and high winds in numerous upstate counties, there is a good chance the state could meet that threshold.
"I'm really hoping we meet it," Douglas said. "There's no way we could absorb these costs."
Most of the damage was to infrastructure, with the bulk of the personal property damage in Moriah. County officials are still examining roads and estimating damage, but Douglas estimated there is about $4 million in damage in Moriah, $2 million in Jay and at least $200,000 in Westport. These numbers have jumped sharply from an initial $1.5 million estimate Wednesday.
"It's all adding up quick," Douglas said. "We had 10 towns in Essex County that had some sort of effect from this storm."
Thunderstorms Tuesday night dumped more than 2.5 inches of rain on the region, and rain plus snowmelt led area waterways to spill over their banks.
The East Branch of the AuSable River, which runs through Jay, was more than 4 feet over flood level Thursday afternoon, shutting down many streets in AuSable Forks and causing significant water damage to the basements of numerous Main Street businesses.
Douglas said the river started to recede a bit around 9 p.m., with the rest receding Friday morning.
The water was threatening the Bolas' home on Church Lane in AuSable Forks Thursday afternoon, but crews used fill to divert the water, and it only entered their garage and work area, not getting inside the house. One family, the Freeburns, had to leave their home in Jay due to flooding earlier this week.
The high waters of the East Branch also caused problems in Keene Valley Thursday, flooding roads, isolating people and damaging homes and farms.
The flooding on Lake Champlain, however, will not slow or derail construction of the new Crown Point Bridge between Crown Point and Chimney Point, Vt., state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said in Moriah Friday.
"We talked to the contractors, and the work is continuing today," McDonald said, standing at the governor's side.
"The staging area for the arch is a little bit underwater, but ... they're moving full speed ahead."
Dam inspectors have looked at most of the area's dams and are satisifed that they are safe, said state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens.
Martens again urged hikers and paddlers to stay out of the region this weekend because of high water and muddy trails.
More than 70 roads in Essex County were closed at the height of the flooding. Forty-four were still listed as closed Friday afternoon on the website of the county Emergency Services office.
Aside from Broad Street in Moriah, the site of one of the bridge collapses and a main thoroughfare that gets more than 5,000 cars a day, most of the still-closed roads are smaller and lightly trafficked.
Major highways such as state Route 9N in the town of Jay and Route 73 in Keene Valley, parts of which were closed earlier this week due to flooding, are all open in Essex County.