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7 months after Irene, more cleanups in NY and Vt.

Associated Press

CHARLESTON, N.Y. (AP) – Seven months after the deluge of Tropical Storm Irene, cleanups continue and worries remain in upstate New York and Vermont.

Farmers in the fields this spring are still grappling with crop-smothering rocks, trees, gravel and sand left behind when the flood waters receded. And some local governments worry about new floods as they continue to clear piles of trees, rocks and household debris from stream banks.

“If we get a normal high-water spring, this stuff is not going to stay here,” Marty Navojosky said as walked through a maze of debris on his land along the Schoharie Creek west of Albany.

Rural, hilly areas in New York and Vermont were hit especially hard hit by flooding when Irene soaked the East Coast last August.

In the Adirondacks, Essex County officials say there is still a “tremendous amount of debris” to remove along rivers and tributaries. Farther south along the Schoharie Creek, Navojosky’s land is one of a series of debris-laden spots along the Schoharie.

“If you have another flooding situation, this stuff will become projectiles as they run down the river again, impacting bridges and plugging streams up. … You really need to clean it up,” said Essex County’s head of emergency services, Don Jaquish.

Farmers are concerned that the gray or even sandy white soil left behind by Irene will affect yields. At Liberty Hill Farm along the White River in Rochester, Vt., the flood waters deposited a layer of gravel, sand and silt that is choking grass in some spots of the normally rich, loamy soil and hampering spring planting of other feed crops for their dairy cows.

“Our pasture was obliterated,” farmer Beth Kennett said. “There are areas where we have to reseed to hay, areas where we would normally have grass and hay and pasture. We’re talking about planting them to corn. We can then plow it under and then get more nutrient matter under the soil.”

The federal government has set aside $4.7 million to reimburse Vermont farmers for work to restore their land to productive use. The grants will cover up to 75 percent of the cost of work, which must be done first.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency through the state can reimburse municipalities up to three quarters of expenses for debris removal along stream banks. But FEMA will only reimburse for debris removal that meets certain thresholds.

The agency recently turned Montgomery County down for reimbursement for a series of messes along the Schoharie, including Navojosky’s land, because it didn’t meet the reimbursement criteria. The county is appealing.

FEMA spokesman Matthew Russell said there are “occasions” when an applicant and FEMA disagree about eligibility, and the appeal can address that.


Rathke reported from Rochester, Vt.

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