Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Include Army Engineers in Dam Inspections, Hinchey Says

01/25/2006 By Jay Braman Jr. , Correspondent KINGSTON - U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey says he has been getting lots of calls from New York City watershed dwellers lately. They wonder, he said, if their properties are safe after hearing recent reports that at least one city-owned reservoir dam in the Catskills is in bad shape, and others may not have been inspected properly. Hinchey wonders, too, and while he said his confidence in New York City's ability to take care of these problems and prevent others isn't completely shaken, he thinks it could use the expertise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as it takes on the task. At a news conference Tuesday in his Kingston office, Hinchey, D-Hurley, formally called on the Corps of Engineers to assist the state Department of Environmental Conservation with dam inspections in the city's West-of-Hudson watershed where the city owns and maintains five reservoirs. The state agency conducts mandatory inspections of the dams every two years. In between, the city Department of Environmental Protection periodically inspects the dams. While lauding recent steps taken on the state level to make the state inspections yearly instead of every other year, Hinchey said he was alarmed by recent reports that city officials may have fudged routine dam inspection reports. Regardless, Hinchey says the Army Corps of Engineers would be invaluable asset. "With the support and expertise of the Corps, it is my hope that the (Department of Environmental Conservation) can increase the frequency and scope of dam inspections within the watershed, provide greater scrutiny of the inspection process and allay the fears of watershed residents," Hinchey wrote to Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. "Initial discussions with NYSDEC indicate a willingness to partner with the Corps on this matter." Apparently, the Corps' New York District office is not permitted to get involved without permission from its Washington headquarters. But the office has been involved in related matters as recently as last fall, when it was invited to work with the Department of Environmental Protection on repair plans for the damaged Gilboa Dam in Schoharie County. "Yes, the Army Corps was involved with the Gilboa Dam situation," said Ian Michaels, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection. "They took part in a workshop on the subject and reviewed the city's plans for stabilizing the dam. The Corps will also be involved in another Gilboa workshop in February, about the anchoring cables that are going to be installed." Hinchey said he has received congressional approval for a complete study of the watershed. He is working to get the funding for such a study, which he says is the first step toward ensuring the long-term integrity of the dams and prevent future flooding. So far, he said, New York City has only been concerned with supplying drinking water to downstaters. Now is the time, Hinchey said, for the city to prioritize flood prevention as well. Within the next decade, he said, the entire water supply system should re-engineered with flood prevention issues in mind. Meanwhile, Michaels said his agency is working to get a waste channel reopened in the Ashokan Reservoir that he said has been locked tight for years. Hinchey said that's fine, but noted that it would still release water into the Esopus Creek, just little farther downstream than where the reservoir spillway currently does. ©Daily Freeman 2006

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