Permit needs stall H’town retaining wall project

SARANAC LAKE – More than two years after the surging floodwaters of the Saranac River undermined a retaining wall behind the Harrietstown Town Hall, the town is still struggling to get all the necessary permits to replace it.

At a board meeting Thursday night, town officials said they’d been saddled with yet another permitting requirement, this one from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We’ve already spent $37,019.52 on permits, and we don’t have a stone in the water yet,” said town Supervisor Bob Bevilacqua. “And now the state is looking for a hydraulic study. It seems frivolous to ask us to do this extensive study when we’ve already spent 2 percent of our budget on permits.”

“Are they saying that if we don’t do the hydraulic study we’re not going to get the permit?” asked Councilwoman Nichole Meyette.

“In so many words, yes,” said town Code Enforcement Officer Ed Randig.

Town officials said they’re planning to meet with DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann to discuss the need for the study. Councilman Jim Murnane suggested they also reach out to the town’s state representatives.

“It seems like it’s an undue burden on the town and the taxpayers of Harrietstown to have to go through this,” Bevilacqua said.

The river, fueled by a combination of heavy rains and snowmelt, climbed over its banks in late April 2011 and eroded portions of the existing stone and concrete retaining wall. The town plans to replace it with a 118-foot retaining wall made of stone riprap and segmented blocks.

Randig said after the meeting the $37,019 spent so far has been for engineering costs related to the project. He said the town has secured permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Adirondack Park Agency, the state Department of Transportation and a separate permit from DEC’s Region 5 office in Ray Brook.

Randig said he wasn’t sure what the hydraulic study could cost. He said he didn’t know it was going to be required until he received a phone call from DEC’s Warrensburg office on Wednesday.

“They’re concerned about the elevation of flood plain level, and the water velocity as it continues down the river,” he said. “If we built the retaining wall, is that going to create additional velocity of water that’s going to impact properties adjacent to ours or further downstream?”

The existing retaining wall has been in place since 1927, Randig said. He noted that even during the spring 2011 floods, the water never went over the top of the wall.

“We don’t feel (the hydraulic study) is relevant at this point,” Randig said.

Replacing the retaining wall is expected to cost roughly $330,000. Randig said the town will likely have to borrow money to pay for it as it only received a “miniscule” amount of disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the flooding.

If the town had all its permits now, construction could start in August and take six to eight weeks to complete, Randig said. If the hydraulic study has to be done, the project will likely be pushed back to next year, he said.

The town has been working with Saranac Lake-based North Woods Engineering on the project. The board voted unanimously Thursday to pay the company an additional $5,700 for work associated with securing the DOT permits.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or