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St. Regis River flooding creates troubles in Winthrop, Brasher Falls


WINTHROP - When Sara Hayes and her husband, Ian, purchased their home along the shores of the St. Regis River in Winthrop last fall, they expected there to be some minor flooding in the spring.

Instead when they woke up Tuesday morning, they saw the St. Regis River enchroaching on their home and slowly gobbling up the side yard of their 225 Maple St. property, which is generally located more than 100 yards from the banks of the river.

“We knew it would flood, but we weren’t expecting anything like this,” Ms. Hayes said from inside her home, which was barricaded by sandbags.

Volunteer firefighters from Brasher-Winthrop and West Stockholm had filled the sandbags Tuesday as the river moved closer and closer to their home, carrying much of a recently delivered load of firewood downstream.

Tuesday’s flooding served as a welcoming of sorts to the family courtesy of Mather Nature, as the family has lived in the home for less than six months.

“I would like to be able to enjoy the outdoors once the warmer weather comes,” Ms. Hayes said.

One thing their neighbors won’t be able to enjoy this summer is their camper, which despite being parked in their back yard away from the river, was nearly submerged.

Samantha Dishaw, speaking from inside a darkend Stewart’s convenience store duirng a brief period Tuesday evening when there was a power outage in the Brasher-Winthrop area, said this year’s flooding was the worst she’s ever seen.

“We moved here when I was 1 and I’m 19,” she said, adding that flooding each spring was normal.

“We would get a quick flood when the ice melted and as chunks would go by we would jump on them when we were kids, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Ms. Dishaw said her shift at Stewart’s began at 2 p.m. Tuesday and as the day progressed she could see the river getting higher and higher.

“The shore is supposed to be where those trees are,” she said, as she looked out the window. “Since I’ve been here at 2, I’ve been watching it slowly rise.”

When she first woke up on Tuesday, Ms. Dishaw said there was more water in the yard than normal, but she didn’t think anything of it, even thinking at the time it was a bit humerous.

“It was kind of funny this morning, but then it started raining and it wasn’t funny anymore,” she said. “Now it’s kind of scary.”

The rising waters of the St. Regis River led to the closure of Maple Street Bridge on state Route 420 in Winthrop Tuesday morning, and as the waters continued to rise the Main Street bridge on Route 11C in downtown Brasher Falls was also closed late Tuesday afternoon.

“My dad has been here since 1921,” said Joan Gokey. “He’s 93, and he said he’s never seen it like this before.”

Ms. Gokey and several others were gathered along the shores of the river in Brasher Falls taking photographs and shooting videos.

Ms. Gokey was watching the river from the shoreline of Jelly Beans Riverside Campground. Also taking in the scene from Jelly Beans was Bill Chambers.

Mr. Chambers said that while the flooding may be more widespread this year than in the past, at least in downtown Brasher Falls, he has seen the river higher. The difference this year was there was no ice jam holding back the river.

“A couple years ago it was higher than this,” he said. “It was almost hitting the bottom of the bridge.”

Mr. Chambers also said he was surprised to see that the state closed the bridge.

“I’m not an engineer, but I’m surprised they closed the bridge,” he said.

In addition to closing the two bridges, a portion of County Route 53 just outside the hamlet of Brasher Falls was also closed.

Two homes that were affected by the flooding were evacuated this morning, according to Brasher Highway Superintendent Larry P. Hewlett.

“There’s three feet of water or more over portions of the road,” St. Lawrence County Deputy Fire Coordinator Frank Burns said. “I’ve never seen it that high there before. Luckily for us, the ice went out two days ago. You can plan all you want, but you can’t stop Mother Nature.”

That forced National Grid crews to shut down its substation on County Route 53, which was in the middle of the flooded area, Tuesday evening

National Grid spokesperson Virginia Limmiatis said the substation supports 1,300 customers. Crews spent Tuesday evening setting up a temporary substation in the parking lot at the Stockholm municipal building.

A portion of Barnage Road in the town of Lawrence as well as the Days Mills Bridge on County Route 49 in the town of Hopkinton were also closed on Tuesday.

Brasher Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said that, because of the flooding, he declared a state of emergency at 11:45 a.m.

“The reason I did it was because of the flooding and potential flooding,” he said. “There’s no blockages. It’s just a tremendous volume of water.”

By declaring a state of emergency, Mr. Dawson said, it could entitle them to money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Dawson and Deputy Supervisor William D. Demo traveled around to affected areas on Tuesday. He said roads including the Hobson and O’Neil had been shut down.

“We had to get around places that were closed County Route 53 is closed. That’s the critical one. There’s a National Grid substation in danger of being inundated,” he said.

He said several people had been evacuated as the Deer River flooded over the roadway on the West Cotter Road in the town of Brasher, just outside the hamlet of North Lawrence, but it was a wait and see game to determine how much damage would be done by the time the water receded.

DOT officials also closed the Route 420 extension in Winthrop between Route 11C and Route 11 at Connelly’s Corner.

Each of the affected roads remained closed into Tuesday evening.

There was some concern that a breach in the St. Regis dam in Waverly was causing some of the flooding problems on the St. Regis River.

But owner Everett Smith said the dam had not been breached. The dam was originally constructed in 1947 and rebuilt in 1993.

“At the moment, I would say the dam is still there. I think it may be damaged on the downstream side a little in the middle. We won’t know until this flood subsides enough that we can get out there and look at it. It looks like it’s going to be days,” Mr. Smith said Tuesday afternoon.

He said that, as of early Tuesday afternoon, the water level in the pond was at the normal level.

“We also have the flood control gates here. Those are not completely open,” Mr. Smith said.

He said, in situations like this week’s weather with a mix of precipitation and thawing snow, flashboards on the dam are designed to prevent flooding. They are used to raise the water surface of a dam.

“The flashboards on the dam are usually designed to break at that point to help prevent flooding. The flashboards have gone. Because the winter was so cold, the ice up here was very thick. When the big thick chunks started to come down, they started banging the flashboards on the dam. It’s a good thing they did. That’s what they they’re supposed to do,” he said.

Brasher-Winthrop firefighters reported Tuesday night a marker in the river near the Elliot’s store indicated by late Tuesday night the river had stopped climbing. Whether that was a temporary development or just a bit of good luck before the river was expected to crest Wednesday, emergency responders and DOT crews were simply going to have to spend the night playing the waiting game.

The rising floodwaters across St. Lawrence County had prompted county Legislature Chairman Jonathan S. Putney to declare a state of emergency Tuesday afternoon.

The town of Stockholm alsodeclared local states of emergency because of flooding along the St. Regis River.

The South Edwards dam in Fine activated its emergency action plan, and Brookfield Renewable Energy had operators on site monitoring the dam’s status.

The biggest concerns are the Oswegatchie and St. Regis rivers, but the Raquette and Grasse rivers could become greater concerns, St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Director Michael J. LeCuyer said Tuesday afternoon.

“Any communities that reside along any of the rivers in the county could be affected,” Mr. LeCuyer said. “There’s a chance that it could slow down tomorrow (Wednesday) as it’s supposed to be colder and the rain should stop.”

He said no evacuation plans have been issued for any of the towns and that the area dams are doing all they can to minimize the water levels.

“Brookfield is doing the best job they can,” he said.


Staff writers Bob Beckstead, Ryne R. Martin, Victor Barbosa and Katie Anderson contributed to this report

Flooding in Brasher
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