Flood threat not receding

B y Derek Liebig

Despite a break in the rainy weather, flooding continues to be a problem for residents who live along the canal and Lake Champlain.

After a long period of rain, many were hoping a stretch of dry weather over the weekend would provide respite from the flooding, but such has not been the case.

Record water levels and north winds have kept flooding essentially the same, if not worse.

“The driving factor is the north wind we have right now,” said Mayor Peter Telisky. “We are contending with high water levels and wind.”

Telisky said a sustained wind between 10 and 20 mph could raise water levels even more and put additional property in peril.

And sure enough, a strong north wind Monday afternoon was making flooding conditions worse than they were.

According to Kitty Arquette, who lives on North Williams St., water levels had risen nearly 11 inches Monday after winds had picked up.

Portions of North Williams Street, which were clear Monday morning, were under several inches of water late Monday afternoon.

One resident who lives on the street said he had seen water levels rise four inches in the hour and a half he had been home from work.

He said he was just stopping to check on the house and would be spending the night in a camper at his brother’s house.

He said his basement was full of water but he had already moved all his belongings to the top floor and wasn’t expecting any long term damage.

He also expressed displeasure in the extra traffic that seemed to find its way onto the road over the last several days, especially those who were traveling at excessive speeds creating additional waves and increasing the volume of water hitting houses.

Two properties down the street, Charlene Bessett’s backyard sat under several feet of water. The top rail of her chain link fence was completely submerged, as was her swimming pool, and all but the top foot of the door to her shed.

Washington County Public Safety Director Bill Cook said Tuesday that water levels had come down Monday evening and weather conditions were expected to remain dry, but admitted residents were “at the mercy of the north wind.”

He compared Lake Champlain to a large bath tub.

“When winds blow from the north, water in the tub spills out in the south,” Cook said.

Telisky said officials have teetered on that line between encouraging some residents to leave their homes and compelling people to do so.

A state of emergency was put in place last week, but expired at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Telisky said at the moment there are no plans to reinstate that order but the option exists if things get worse.

“We’re still prepared. We’re on standby waiting for the water to go down,” said Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon.

So far about three or four families have been “in and out” of their homes and the possibility exists more people may have to be moved if the winds gather additional strength.

The Red Cross used the Skenesborough Emergency Squad building as a temporary shelter for displaced residents over the weekend but didn’t have anyone make use of the shelter.

Some supplies and materials were left behind in the event a need emerges.

Matters were made worse Sunday evening when several thousand people in the area lost power.

Telisky said the only thing preventing a few residents’ homes from taking on more water was around the clock pumping of their basement, an option they lost when the power went out.

He said a few residents received assistance in keeping water from seeping higher in their homes until the power was restored.

Fortunately, other than some property damage and a major inconvenience for local residents, no injuries have been reported.

Nor does there appear to be any significant damage to public infrastructure. Water has spilled over the road in a few spots but surfaces appear to be holding up well, and because the water isn’t moving, erosion isn’t expected to be a problem.

A full evaluation can’t be made until levels recede everywhere however.
“We don’t know for sure, we’re just expecting it to be wet and there will be a lot of debris,” Telisky said.  

It may be awhile before water levels go down.

Water levels in the lake remain at record levels. The U.S. Geological Survey gauge in Burlington recorded water levels at 103 feet, about three feet above flood levels.

Unlike rivers, whose water levels drop relatively quickly in the absence of rain or snowmelt, excess water on Lake Champlain has nowhere to go, meaning it may take some time for levels to decrease.

Cook said someone told him in can take a week for water levels to drop one foot, meaning it could take three weeks for levels to drop below flood level.

“It could be awhile,” he said.

In the mean while, residents wait.

“We just need the wind to stop,” Arquette said.

Whitehall Fire Chief Bryan Brooks said water levels had appeared to recede  little bit during the day Tuesday.

The Whitehall Volunteer Fire Department was busy during the power outage Sunday evening helping pump out cellars in flooded areas and helped control traffic at intersections throughout the village until power could be restored.

“We’ve had tons of manpower. Guys have been falling over themselves to help.”

Brooks said most of the houses he’s seen seem to be holding up and expects most to emerge from the flooding without any major damage. He also said roads seem to be holding up pretty well and the water doesn’t appear to be undercutting surfaces or washing away portions of the road.

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