N.Y. State Park Flood Damage in the Millions

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September 15, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

New York state officials are still assessing flood damage in the millions of dollars that’s closed six Saratoga-Capital Region state parks and historic sites, the Saratoga Springs Saratogian reported.

At Guy Park State Historic Site, in Amsterdam, the raging Mohawk River cut through an 18th century stone building’s foundation and carried away irreplaceable historic documents.

The cash-strapped parks system was threatened with closures each of the past two years for budget reasons, raising concerns about such possibilities next spring with so many costly repairs at hand.

“Almost every park in the region had some level of damage,” said Robert Kuhn, assistant regional director. “Some was catastrophic. It will take weeks, months and in some cases years to get back to where we were.”

Members of the Saratoga-Capital Region Parks Commission discussed such damage during a quarterly meeting held Wednesday (Sept. 14) at Grant Cottage State Historic Site.

“We lost whole beaches at some of our parks,” said Heather Mabee, commission chairwoman. “We have no capital funds.”

Compounding problems, a number of staff retirements are expected this year, meaning fewer people will be available to tackle much-needed repairs because of the state’s hiring freeze.

“It’s discouraging,” regional Director Alane Ball Chinian said. “As it is, they’re managing them (parks) with insufficient help.”

The historic 1766 structure at Guy Park is so unstable that officials still haven’t gotten inside to determine what was lost. The building’s foundation and 3-foot-thick stone walls were undermined, two corners collapsed and the entire first floor filled with water.

“The idea that this could happen is mind-boggling,” Kuhn said. “This was a 500-year floor. Nothing like this had ever happened before.”

Such places aren’t covered by flood insurance.

“The state is self-insured, which means if it breaks, you fix it with your own money,” he said.

Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site also was devastated by flood waters. Guy Park, Schoharie Crossing and Fort Crailo in Rensselaer have all closed for the season.

Three of the region’s campgrounds have also been shuttered prematurely — Cherry Plain, Mine Kill and Max V. Shaul state parks.

Statewide, the entire parks system suffered a decline in attendance numbers this year, making less money available for repairs. The Saratoga-Capital Region was no exception, Chinian said.

Locally, several factors contributed to the numbers reduction.

First, this spring and early summer was extremely wet. Then Labor Day Weekend was virtually a total washout because of Hurricane Irene. All campgrounds, including Moreau Lake State Park, closed before the storm hit on Sunday, Aug. 28.

At Saratoga Lake, the state boat launch generated no revenue this year because of work on the new Route 9P bridge. “DOT (the state Department of Transportation) hasn’t cleaned up yet,” Chinian said.

At Saratoga Spa State Park, a disappointing Live Nation concert series cut into attendance numbers, which resulted in lower parking revenue. The park gets $10 per vehicle.

“There just weren’t a lot of big groups touring or they were very expensive,” said Eleanor Mullaney, a parks commission and Saratoga Performing Arts Center board member. “I know they didn’t have as many large acts as they normally have.”

At Thompson’s Lake State Park, in Albany County, renovations closed facilities for half the season, hurting that park’s attendance.

“Quite a few things conspired to keep us at less than full capacity this year,” Chinian said.

In the face of such circumstances, officials are considering a number of initiatives to keep parks from closing, as they have in other states such as California and Minnesota.

One proposal, called “Pennies for Parks,” would impose a small fee of one to five cents on plastic shopping bags people get at grocery and retail stores. All funds would go into a fund for park programs, upkeep and repairs.

There’s not enough dollars out there to take care of the needs of state parks,” Mabee said.

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