RAY BROOK -On Aug. 30, one day after the scope of the damage from Tropical Storm Irene became clear, Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to Keene and announced he was suspending state Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation permitting requirements to let emergency repairs be made. The news was greeted enthusiastically by local and state representatives.
But technically, Cuomo didn't have to take any action to suspend the APA's rules. A section of the APA Act says its permitting jurisdiction simply doesn't apply "to any emergency project which is immediately necessary for the protection of life or property."
Rick Weber, the agency's deputy director for regulatory programs, told the Enterprise Thursday that the governor's directive was more to "clarify" to the public and local government officials that they didn't need agency permits to conduct emergency repairs.
Thursday was the first time the APA Board of Commissioners met since Irene wrecked havoc in parts of the Park. Agency staff briefed the board on the damage to homes, businesses, roads and bridges, primarily in Essex County, and the agency's response to the disaster. Commissioners were also updated on Irene's impacts to the backcountry and on efforts to reopen trails that were closed in the aftermath of the storm.
"The storm appeared to be stuck over the North Country as the day was unfolding," APA Executive Director Terry Martino said. "The devastation to homes, businesses and communities made us all take note of the force of water and the power of Mother Nature. We've also seen inspiration in how people and communities have come together in their response."
Weber, in a presentation to the board, said several records were broken in the AuSable River basin during the storm.
"When I started looking into this, I was astounded by some of the numbers," he said.
Using National Weather Service information, Weber said Essex County saw between 6 and 10 inches of rain during a 24-hour period, with the highest amounts falling in the High Peaks.
Weber also provided data from a U.S. Geologic Survey gauging station on the AuSable River in AuSable Forks. The station recorded 48,500 cubic feet per second of water on Aug. 28, the day of Irene, a flow that's well above the previous record of 37,400 cubic feet per second, set in 1996. The gauge also recorded a river height of 18.43 feet the day after the storm, almost 3-and-a-half feet higher than the previous record of 15 feet, also set in 1996.
Weber delivered a slide presentation to APA commissioners on the damage to public infrastructure and private property from Irene.
Later in the day, DEC Regional Forester Tom Martin spoke to the agency board about Irene's impact on the backcountry, including at least 24 new or expanded landslides on mountains in the High Peaks. The Duck Hole dam was also breached, and the walkway across Marcy Dam was washed out, along with the flush boards that controlled the water level behind the dam. Both ponds have now dewatered and largely become mud flats.
Martin said many footbridges on backcountry trails were also washed out during the storm. Fast-moving water also eroded or washed away some sections of trail, which have had to be rerouted. Trails in the eastern High Peaks, Giant Mountain and Dix Mountain wilderness areas were closed until they could be inspected, cleared and repaired.
"The majority of the trails are now open," Martin said. "We're working diligently to get the rest of the trails open as soon as possible. It's my goal to have all of the trails passable for the general public by Columbus Day weekend (Oct. 8 to 10)."
APA staff and commissioners shared their own stories about where they were during Irene and what they've done to assist in the recovery effort. Martino said APA staff worked in Keene and Jay as part of Cuomo's "Labor for Your Neighbor" campaign over the Labor Day weekend. Commissioner Cecil Wray said he spent two days helping to clean up Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley, where he has a home.
"The remarkable thing is the incredible support from the community to all the people who suffered in the hurricane and lost property," Wray said. "People were really pitching in to help down there, which is wonderful to see."