AuSABLE FORKS - North Country Congressman Bill Owens says he's amazed at the resiliency of flood victims who saw their property devastated by Tropical Storm Irene.
The Democrat from New York's 23rd Congressional District stopped in the town of Jay Tuesday afternoon to hear from local officials about ongoing infrastructure issues and view firsthand some of the problems the community still faces.
Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas told Owens that a water line feeding AuSable Forks and the Clinton County town of Black Brook broke during the Aug. 28 storm. The town is currently using fire hoses attached to fire hydrants as a temporary line, but Department of Public Works officials don't feel comfortable with that set-up as winter approaches.
Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas, left, and U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, center, listen as town Councilman Archie Depo explains the process for replacing a broken water line that feeds both AuSable Forks and Black Brook.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
Douglas said contractors have tried on three occasions to drill underneath the river to place a permanent line, but they were unsuccessful.
"We're having major issues," he said, noting that the town will now put a temporary cofferdam in place so crews can cross-cut the river and install a line.
"We're fighting wintertime," Douglas added, "and it's costly."
The town of Jay received a $1 million loan from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation earlier this fall. Payments on that loan aren't due until next year, and Douglas said he's hopeful that Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements will cover most of its cost.
Jay Councilman Archie Depo said the town recently purchased property on School Lane in order to build a pressure-reducing pit and a meter pit for the water line.
"We'll probably have, just in the building, about $188,000 and with the piping and river crossing, we'll probably have over a million dollars just in that crossing and the new meter house," he said.
Douglas said it's been tough to get state and federal aid for these projects. But he added that Owens has been a strong leader for North Country communities like AuSable Forks and Keene as they continue to rebuild.
"You've gone out of your way to make sure we've got the right contacts and the right information," he said. "And I appreciate it."
Owens said he continues to marvel at the damage Irene caused. He asked Douglas how the community is doing nearly three months removed from the flood.
According to Douglas, more than 500 homes in Essex County and 167 in the town of Jay were affected by the storm. He said the immediate needs of those homeowners have been met in the form of temporary housing.
"Now, it's long-term planning," Douglas explained. "They're interested in property acquisition through FEMA. Some of our people are getting frustrated. We've gathered 52 possible applicants throughout Essex County who are interested in a buyout. They're in limbo; they don't know if they should build or if they should fix their property."
Owens said he was surprised at how few people have signed up for property acquisition.
"I'm actually surprised," he said. "You're talking about roughly 10 percent of the people who were affected."
"It's their community," Douglas responded. "They don't want to leave. It really is quite amazing what they've been through. Some of them have already started to rebuild their homes, and they're ready to go for the third round."
Owens said it's important for him to see firsthand the work that still needs to be done. He told Douglas he would continue to fight for relief funds and "keep the money moving."