Motel owner asks county for help with flooding

MALONE – One of the owners of Gauthier’s Saranac Lake Inn asked Franklin County officials Thursday for help in improving management and communications over the water level of Lake Flower, which has repeatedly flooded the motel’s property in recent weeks.

Speaking at the county Legislature’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Nicole Brownell said the property didn’t have flooding problems until the last two years. When it happens, she said they contact the village, which controls the lake’s water level via the Lake Flower dam, to let village officials know the water is rising and approaching the motel’s rooms. But Brownell said nothing is done until they call Essex and Franklin county emergency services officials.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Brownell said she nearly had to evacuate 150 of her guests due to the rising lake level.

“We had made phone calls and sent emails throughout the entire week and nothing happened,” Brownell said. “Sunday morning we arrived for an early shift at the property at 6 a.m. and the water was outside the doors and starting to come up. My husband had to put sandbags outside the doors on the lower level. We contacted (county Emergency Services Director) Ricky Provost. He made a phone call. The dam was opened and within an hour the water dropped five inches.”

Since then, the water came up again last weekend. This time, Brownell said she contacted Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish, who she said called the village and got them to let more water out of the dam.

With more rain in the forecast over the next few days, Brownell said she’s concerned her property, and others, will be flooded out again. As of Thursday morning, the water had already breached the motel’s 3-foot high retaining wall along the lake and was 6 feet up the yard, Brownell said.

“I understand that (the state Department of Environmental Conservation) opens its lock gate up at Oseetah (Lake) because there’s a lot of people who call from the camps (upstream) saying they’re getting flooded,” she said. “So they open that gate. But somewhere between that gate opening, there’s no communication to the next gate, which is the Lake Flower dam. Somewhere there’s a communication breakdown, and I’m hoping at the county level you can break that gap.”

Village officials and DEC representatives weren’t present for Thursday’s meeting, but county Legislator Tim Burpoe read portions of a letter he received from village Manager John Sweeney. Sweeney’s letter said any claim that the village and DEC are not in communication about the lake level is “completely inaccurate.

“NYS DEC Operations under Doug McCabe and Jeff Gagnier communicate each time with the village when changes are being made to assure operations are maintained,” Sweeney wrote.

He said the village is licensed, through the state and federal governments, to run the dam for power production and must maintain a minimum of 55 cubic feet per second downstream from the dam site.

“The village is not responsible for maintaining certain water levels as part of its license,” Sweeney wrote. “The village responsibly operates the dam at Lake Flower in an attempt to maintain both upstream as well as downstream water levels.”

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis told the Enterprise that her agency and village Department of Public Works staff “communicate regularly” about water releases from the Lower Lock on the Saranac River and the Lake Flower Dam.

“Boards and gates at either location are not open, closed or moved without a discussion between DEC and village DPW to ensure proper coordination of water releases and to minimize fluctuating water levels in Lake Flower,” DeSantis wrote in an email this morning.

DeSantis said the recent rise of water levels in Lake Flower is due to the 5 inches of rain the area has seen in the last two weeks.

“DEC strives to minimize flooding when possible,” she wrote. “However, while the flow of water out of Lower Saranac Lake is the largest contributor to the water flowing into Lake Flower, a considerable amount of water comes from the watersheds of Lake Kiwassa, Lake Oseetah and Lake Flower itself. All of these are downstream of the Lower Lock and for which there is no flow control mechanisms.”

Burpoe, who had asked Brownell to speak at the meeting, said the village may not be dropping the lake level quick enough because of its hydro-power requirements.

“I have a feeling that what happens is they do get notified that the water is coming up, but they don’t want to drop the water so quickly because they might lose the opportunity to keep the minimum,” Burpoe said. “So they let it linger a little bit too long and it backs up onto (Brownell’s) property and other people’s properties.”

“If I get a call as mayor, and we have property owners getting flooded, you’d think he’d want to open it to get it down so these people don’t have a problem,” said Legislator Paul Maroun, who’s also the mayor of the village of Tupper Lake. “How do we command the mayor to do something?”

Chairman Billy Jones said he didn’t know what role the county could play other than getting DEC and village officials to communicate better.

Burpoe said he will contact DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann and ask him to speak to village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. In the meantime, if the motel’s property is flooded out again this weekend, he recommended Brownell call Provost again.

Brownell told the Enterprise after the meeting that she’s not out to antagonize the village.

“We’re just trying to get the water level down,” she said.