Minor restoration project planned for AuSable River

KEENE VALLEY – A minor river restoration project is planned for the East Branch of the AuSable River, the site of flooding this April, and the location where a prior river restoration project occurred in 2012.

Some locals blamed the river restoration project for flooding that occurred on Holt Road in April. Heavy rains and snowmelt caused the flooding, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife official. A small brook on Holt Road, named Twichell Brook, runs under both Holt Road and state Route 73 and connects with the AuSable on a bend in the river. The homes on Holt Road sit on a flood plain.

Dave Reckahn, Essex County’s soil and water district manager, said he’s currently seeking bids from contractors for a minor river restoration project to make adjustments where Twichell Brook meets the AuSable River.

“I want to get in there with a contractor before October,” Reckahn said.

Reckahn said the brook was altered after Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.

“The river changed drastically during Irene; that brook is all together different,” Reckahn said. “The riverbank used to protect that brook. It has been removed since 2009, basically.”

Town of Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee and a few other locals like Lou Gregory of Holt Road said the flooding there was exacerbated by the river restoration project that occurred across from the homes on the AuSable River. Gregory said the brook never backed up the way it did in April before.

“They were foolin’ with Mother Nature and had no business doing it,” Gregory said in April. “Tell them it’s got to be fixed. It’s unfair for the people living here.”

Carl Schwartz, the program coordinator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, visited the area last month to work with the county on the project. He considered the flooding back in April to be a “larger storm” event.

“What people didn’t realize was, when it did that, there was still 3 to 4 feet of snowpack above them, so with that rain and the snow there was a lot of water coming down,” Schwartz said.

Water elevations during the flooding, on both sides of the Ausable River, were an equal measurement, he said.

“They had 10 inches of water in their greenhouses at Rivermede Farm, and the same elevation was on the other side of the road,” Schwartz said.

After assessing the area, Schwartz determined that the river had captured the brook.

“What happened was, that the main river captured that tributary upstream of where it used to enter, so what that does is the tributary water is higher than where it was before Irene,” Schwartz said.

The river restoration project would take approximately two weeks to complete and would involve an excavator moving dirt and rocks from the riverbed and banks around where Twichell Brook meets the Ausable River.

The mouth of Twichell Brook could be moved farther downstream to address the issue, Schwartz said.

“By trying to have the brook downstream a little farther, that would help with a lower storm event because it would be able to drain down farther,” he said.

Moving the mouth of the brook would involve contacting a property owner and requesting the changes be made to the property, which hasn’t happened yet.

“It would have to go downstream to have another foot or so of drop then what it has now, but that means it would have to go through someone else’s property,” Schwartz said.

He expects the changes would help reduce flooding during a moderate storm, but not with a larger storm like the one back in April.

“With a large storm event, nothing helps,” Schwartz said.