Homeowners Sue New York Over $4.6M in Flood Damage

May 24, 2013

Some property owners along the Mohawk River have sued the state Canal Corporation, claiming the agency failed to adequately prepare for the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

A lawsuit listing 57 property owners in the Schenectady County hamlet of Rotterdam Junction was filed Tuesday in the state Court of Claims. It alleges the Canal Corporation was negligent because it failed to protect against flooding that caused more than $4.6 million in damage.

The lawsuit says the state created a task force to address potential flooding along the river after devastating floods in June 2006, but the task force never convened before the 2011 flood.

The Canal Corporation operates a series of dams and locks on the river to create navigable channels. The moveable dams are raised in the fall to allow ice and debris to pass during winter and early spring. When Irene brought torrential rains in August 2011, the lower sections of the dams couldn’t be lifted on short notice and debris built up, causing the raging waters to carve new channels through the riverbanks.

In Rotterdam Junction, Main Street was submerged and some homes remained flooded for up to six days. Local officials said 52 homes were damaged on the first floor and 32 others were flooded up to the second floor.

Paul DeLorenzo, one of the attorneys representing property owners, said the lawsuit seeks $4.6 million for damage not covered by insurance. “Some of these people lost everything; others lost personal belongings or parts of their homes,” DeLorenzo said Wednesday. “We maintain that this was foreseeable. The state didn’t take any action to prevent this.”

An agency official declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Canal Flood Mitigation Task Force created by the state Legislature after the 2006 flood was supposed to meet at least six times and issue a report, but it never convened before the 2011 flood. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has conducted studies of the Mohawk River basin since the 2006 flood and has been working on a program involving soil and water conservation districts and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Canal Corporation announced a $34 million flood mitigation project in February that includes improvements to the eight moveable dams along the river so they can better handle future floods.

Questions about the state’s preparedness were also raised after Superstorm Sandy. More than three decades before the massive storm devastated the Atlantic coast, a state law and a series of legislative reports began warning New York politicians to prepare for a storm of historic proportions that would cause the towering storm surge, overwhelming flooding and widespread power outages caused by Sandy.

The Cuomo administration insists that it has had robust emergency planning and made important changes after tropical storms Irene and Lee slammed much of upstate in 2011.

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