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Rye: One Year After Hurricane Irene

RYE, N.Y. – One year after Hurricane Irene flooded the streets of Rye, knocked down trees and power lines, and temporarily displaced residents, City Manager Scott Pickup says Rye is taking steps to manage flooding and communicate with residents in the face of future storms.

At about 4:30 a.m. Aug. 28, 2011, the Bowman Avenue Dam overtopped very quickly, sending water through the streets and trapping residents on Midland Avenue, Highland Road and elsewhere until emergency responders could get through.

After the storm, city streets and bridges were barricaded. Residents took it upon themselves to move barricades and drive over unstable bridges and through high levels of water, Pickup said.

“People have to abide by and understand that in disasters of this type, there are going to be inconveniences,” he said. “I was dumbfounded by that kind of behavior.”

By the afternoon of Aug. 28, residents were out on the streets, walking around in flooded areas. But, says Pickup, the waters were polluted; emergency responders were offered shots after wading through the floodwaters.

“People had their kids out playing in the water like it was some kind of fun thing, and it contained sewage, diesel and chemicals,” he said.

In the months following the hurricane, officials began taking serious steps to solve the flooding problem that has plagued the city. The town officially formed a Flood Advisory Committee in January and February to identify and research flood mitigation measures, developing best practices for homeowners and assisting in seeking grant opportunities.

Shortly thereafter, Westchester County announced $9 million would be doled out to assuage chronic flooding near the Bronx River and Sound Shore.

In late March, the City of Rye, along with the Village of Rye Brook and the Town of Harrison, entered into an intermunicipal agreement leading to the approval of a sluice gate to be installed inside the Bowman Avenue Dam . A sluice gate is an automated mechanism within the dam that controls water flow; it is currently under construction by ELQ Industries.

Water flow and volume are the main factors in determining the impact of a flood. The Rye City Council passed a resolution in March allowing the engineering company WSP Sells to conduct a study that investigates increasing the capacity of the Bowman Avenue Dam’s upper pond. However, in July, a proposed $10.6 million dredge of the dam, to be completed by 2014, was put on hold due to incongruous topography data in comparing flood mitigation documents dating back to 1979.

The dam is coming up for state review, and must meet new regulations to ensure it can protect downstream communities and the environment.

A flood mitigation alternative proposed at a meeting of the Rye City Council in July would elevate the wall at the dam. If the dam wall were raised two feet, the basin’s storage capacity could increase by about 148,000 cubic yards, which has a greater impact than any of the suggested dredging projects. Elevating the dam might cost an estimated $1.5 million, said Flood Committee Chair Rafael Elias-Linero.

But proposed solutions to solve flooding over the year are sometimes worse than the floods themselves, says Pickup.

“I don’t see Rye erecting something like 15-foot flood walls. They’re not realistic in a place that’s fully developed and, quite frankly, won’t tolerate that aesthetic along floodways and corridors,” he added.

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