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City of Albany Creating A Wetland To Mitigate Annual Flooding

Lainie Lucas

Flood-prone areas in Albany are getting relief. Officials are taking steps to counter the perennial problem.

Elberon Place near Washington Park and the Woodlawn Avenue neighborhood near the Little League and Babe Ruth ballfields are two areas particularly vulnerable to flooding during heavy rainstorms. The city sewer line commonly carries both sewage and rain runoff, but when too much water falls from the skies too quickly, nasty, smelly back-ups are often the result. 10th ward councilwoman Leah Golby:   "There are neighbors that have gone through this multiple times over the years who have lived in these areas of Pine Hills, both Hansen Alley and Ryckman Alley both got flooded."

Resident Karen Gutta  tells NewsChannel 13:  "Every August, the stress of having to think that there's going to be another storm and that it could possibly happen again is more than I can handle."

In August 2008 her backyard and basement were submerged by sewage-laden water. It happened again two years ago when three inches of rain came down in a half hour. For those folks in that Woodlawn Park area, Golby says the breaking point came in the wake of that major storm when several homes and yards were flooded.   "My colleague Judy Dosschate, along with some of our other colleagues, we first organized a large community meeting that we held at New Scotland Elementary School, maybe a month after the flood in 2014, and at that, we heard the stories of the devastation, it's really where that was driven home. So after that meeting, Council Member Dosschate said 'You know, I really think we need to work towards finding a solution’ and she suggested that the neighborhood association start an ad hoc flooding work group committee."

Neighbors eventually got together with city officials. A “green” solution was found: construct wetlands able to hold back 500,000 gallons of rainfall from underground water infrastructure during a storm.  Already, crews have cleared trees and are digging a pond beyond the nearby Babe Ruth outfield fence.

The $1.9 million project is funded with a Green Innovation Grant Program award from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation, along with funds from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the Albany Water Board.

Water Board Commissioner Joe Coffey says the wetlands plan includes creating a pond and seeding an assortment of aquatic plant life able to absorb rainwater.

Then there's that Elberon Place project on the other side of Pine Hills. Relief for that oft-flooded neighborhood is coming sooner than planned thanks to a massive sinkhole that opened up at the corner of Elberon and South Lake in early August after a major water main failed.

Credit Dave Lucas WAMC
Flooding during a heavy rain at the corner of Quail Street and Western Avenue, a block away from South Lake Avenue.

Coffey says plans call for a new storm sewer from Quail Street to Washington Park Lake.  "Part of that would be to put a 60-inch storm sewer in the center section right next to where we had the sinkhole. So while we were doing the construction we felt it prudent at his point to put the storm sewer in at this time, rather than going back three or four or five months from now and digging the intersection up again. "

Getting the new line in while the ground is open may have delayed sinkhole repairs, but Golby feels it makes sense.  "Part of the reason that South Lake has been taking so long for them to repair is that they knew they were going to do the Elberon work soon and they were going to have open up the road again, so rather than waiting a few weeks to do the work, they're getting some of the work done for the Elberon Project now, while the street is open."

Back at Woodlawn Park, water detention tanks will be installed underneath the ball field. The computer-controlled tanks can hold 750,000 gallons of storm water, mitigating flooding and overflows into the Beaver Creek watershed, which handles about a quarter of the city’s storm water runoff.

While trees were removed to construct the wetland, new ones are being planted.  Additionally, the Babe Ruth ballpark will have its outfield re-graded, its drainage improved, and a new bullpen built.

Work is expected to be completed by November.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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