One year later, flood scars remain
YATES COUNTY--A year after the flash flooding that caused millions in damage throughout Yates County, some visible reminders still remain. The flooding first hit the evening of May 13 as a result of a reported 2.86 inches of rain falling in a few hours, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center. The issues were further compounded when more rain came May 16, causing even more flooding to more than 250 homes in the county. One year after these events, the county is still recovering.
A large hole remains where the former Owl's Nest building used to be off Seneca Street. The building partly covered Jacob's Brook and partially collapsed when the creek overflowed during the first night of flooding May 13, 2014. It was not long afterward the rest of the building collapsed, leaving the hole exposing the brook's culvert.
The property is owned by Birkett Mills President Jeff Gifford, who said he is still waiting to see what can be done with what remains of the building. He said the village still needs to deal with the parking lot next to the location that was also heavily damaged during the flooding, adding it took him nearly $50,000 just to clean up after the building came down. Gifford said he and the village are still waiting on word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to see what can be done with the property.
"I would like to see it cleaned up, obviously, but it's one of those things where we have to see how the whole thing shakes out," Gifford said. "I'm not very good at waiting for the government. I keep pushing the issue to see what happens with it. I would have thought by now we would have had some kind of result."
Another casualty of the flooding was the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail, which had segments of the path wash out during last year's events. The trail has since been closed to pedestrians, although it is still accessible from many areas. Friends of the Outlet President Peg Thompson said the group is working with State Senator Tom O'Mara's office to secure a $150,000 grant to help repair some of the damaged areas along the trail. She said the Lions Club has also been working on making the trail more level in certain areas and adding stone.
"It is going to be a lengthy process, but we are really pleased the senator's office has gone to bat for us with this grant," Thompson said. "It will help us because certainly our organization doesn't have the funds to do the needed repairs."
The county's farmers also saw extensive damage as the flood waters washed away the topsoil from crop land due to heavy erosion. Tom Eskildsen of the Yates County Soil and Water Conservation District said he had visited some 60 farms in the aftermath of the storm that suffered damage, adding there were others that had also been impacted by the floods. Yates County farmers did see some $284,000 in disaster relief from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) earlier in 2015. These funds went to 30 area farms. Eskildsen said it could still be years before things are back to normal.
"Typically a lot of our Mennonite farms don't participate in a lot of the government funding programs," Eskildsen said. "They are working on their own for the recovery work for their farms."
Eskildsen said many farms had to fill the washouts on their property, while other farmers had to clear out the material that washed out and deposited on their land from other areas. He said some farmers had four to six feet of material they had to clean off the land. Eskildsen said some farmers have worked to fill in the washed out areas and will try to get something growing again by adding more compost.
"The topsoil is gone, so they are just trying to fill it in with whatever material they can find," Eskildsen said. "I think it is going to be awhile before the farmers see a full recovery in some of those washed out areas."
In addition to the visible scars, many area buildings saw extensive interior damage after last year's flood. The Arc of Yates building located along North Avenue in Penn Yan saw more than $1 million in damages and has spent the last year in nearby administrative buildings. The Sampson Theatre, along with many of the buildings along East Elm Street and Champlin Avenue also saw significant interior flooding during the two days of rain. Streams and creeks running throughout the village backed up with debris, overflowing and causing extensive damage to nearby houses and businesses.
Over the past year, significant remodeling and rebuilding has happened with area businesses and residential houses. The Arc of Yates recently began construction work to repair their damaged space. The rebuilding will continue in 2015 and beyond.
To commemorate the anniversary, a "Flood Crawl" was held throughout the village Saturday, May 9, to raise funds for the Living Well, who had assisted with flood relief during the disaster even after its own offices had been flooded. There will also be a community open house for businesses in downtown Penn Yan Thursday, May 14 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Residents will be able to meet with area merchants to discuss how they recovered from the flood one year ago. There will also be music and entertainment beginning at 7:30 p.m. along the sidewalk in front of Finger Lakes Entertainment following the event.