Residents push for creek study

JOHNSTOWN – When the Comrie Creek overflows, the flooding damage is felt along multiple city blocks and many city properties.

City residents whose properties either border the creek or are near it say they are fed up and want government action. They welcome a possible city hydraulic study that may be approved this month looking into ways to mitigate past serious flash flooding and other problems associated with the Comrie Creek.

“It runs right next to my pole barn,” Roger Eaton of 3 N. East Ave. said Friday. “It comes into my barn and overflows.”

Anthony Valovic, whose home is at 12 S. Chase St., on Thursday stood by the Chase Street Bridge that spans the creek in his neighborhood. He said his basement is greatly impacted on especially rainy days, as are many of the homes on his street.

“The water comes up through the drain pipes,” Valovic said.

He showed how water went as high as the windows at a home on his street.

“It’s when we have major floods,” Valovic said. “The water table here is pretty high and comes in my basement.”

In the 11 years he’s lived on South Chase Street, Valovic said he’s encountered about three major flooding problems. He said he had to buy a new furnace and water tank, and he now has flood insurance. He said his child called him at work to tell him the basement was flooded up to his knees, and he had to use three pumps to help rectify the situation.

“We got flooded pretty good,” Valovic said. “Every time it rains, I get water. Definitely, I’d like the city to do something.”

The Common Council discussed problems with Comrie Creek and what to about when it floods its banks at its February meeting at City Hall. Several residents attended that session, and members of the council and Mayor Michael Julius said they would look into a possible study.

At the session, City Engineer Chandra Cotter said she has been working with C.T. Male Associates in Latham about a possible hydraulic study of the Comrie Creek. At the time, she quoted a $30,000 study the firm could do as an initial investigation of the creek.

“We have been getting some other proposals together,” Cotter said Wednesday.

She said the council may consider possible action on a study at its next business meeting at 7 p.m. April 21 at City Hall. But Cotter said the study may be of a lesser scope than originally envisioned, and “not the full $30,000.”

The problem is that no funding to pay for a study of Comrie Creek was put into the 2014 city budget, Cotter said.

Cotter said the city has been looking into dealing with ongoing issues involving the creek. She said the creek has caused flooding problems the last few years, including October in an area crossing South East Avenue, under Route 30A, South Chase Street and East Main Street, before the creek eventually connects into Hale Creek near Prindle Avenue.

The city engineer said she has conferred with neighbors about the situation.

“It pretty much affects the crossroads,” Cotter said.

Julius said Thursday he didn’t know about the creek issue until he took office in January. But he has since learned Comrie Creek flooding has impacted many homes for several decades and “no one has done anything about it.”

“C’mon, these people need some relief,” he stated.

The mayor said there are several ways the city can proceed, but any work can’t start until there’s a go-ahead from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. One possibility he mentioned is dredging. He said he would like to help property owners along the creek, especially those on East Main Street who have had their homes flooded.

He said more information is needed in advance of the April 21 council meeting.

“We’re waiting for a couple different groups to give their assessments and what kind of grants we can get,” Julius said.

In February, Cotter noted the water even backs up onto properties during “normal rain events,” and referred to some of the area in question as often “swampy.”

“I know we’ve had to close South East Avenue on numerous occasions,” Cotter said.

Cotter last fall, in an effort to provide relief to residents, asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation for permission to dredge the stream from South East Avenue to South Comrie Avenue. She said the response from DEC was the Comrie Creek is a classified stream and DEC doesn’t promote dredging, and the permit was denied.

She said she spoke to former city Engineer Chad Kortz, who now works for C.T. Male Associates, about the situation. Cotter said there are several culverts and bridges along the creek that the city should be concerned about maintaining during flooding.

Cotter said Kortz indicated his engineering firm can do a hydraulic study of the creek. She said a study, or a hydroanalysis of the whole creek, will help the city “understand the entire creek” and analyze any need for improvements. It would study the existing stream crossings and channel sections, Cotter said. It also will generate base maps, compute flow rates and create a stream model.

Conrad Sturgess of 46 South East Ave. has been documenting the creek situation for some time. His family has owned property in that area for decades.

The 71-year-old said Friday he has probably submitted between 140 and 150 photos to city officials. He said the problem isn’t just flooding, but drainage issues impacting the “whole basin of the area” in the east-central part of the city.

Sturgess said former city Engineer Charles Ackerbauer also submitted a proposal to Julius to study the amount of water in the creek and the sloping and gradient of the area. He’s glad city officials are now interested in the creek issues – something lacking in past administrations.

“The new mayor is very aggressive on this, very positive,” Sturgess said.