Critics say Irene cleanup bad for streams

    Roaring Brook in New Russia after its restoration. Photo from Adirondack Council.
Roaring Brook in New Russia after its restoration. Photo from Adirondack Council.

The Adirondack Council and Ausable River Association contend that highway crews intent on rechanneling streams after Tropical Storm Irene are destroying trout habitat and creating conditions that could worsen flooding in the future.

Several mountain streams jumped their banks during Irene, flooding and damaging buildings and roadways. Since then, bulldozers have been used to divert the streams back into their original channels.

But Carol Treadwell, executive director of the Ausable River Association, said the bulldozers are also straightening the streams, removing boulders, lining the shores with rock, and smoothing streambeds.

Treadwell said the altered streams are poor habitat for trout, which often hang out behind boulders, in riffles, and in deep pools near river bends. She added that trees will not grow back on rock-lined shores, thus depriving the fish of shade.

Moreover, Treadwell said creating straight channels will allow water to flow faster, worsening the chance of flooding downsteam in future storms.

Treadwell said the state Department of Environmental Conservation should require the crews to recreate natural conditions in the streams, with clusters of boulders, meanders, and varying depth.

After Irene hit, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an emergency order allowing crews to rebuild roads without acquiring the usual permits.

“A lot of environmental damage is taking place in the name of public safety,” Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said in a news release. “The governor should make it clear that there are some things road crews can do to rebuild without permits, but bulldozing trout streams is not one of them.”

DEC spokesman Michael Bopp said the department is working with municipalities, county officials, and the Army Corp of Engineers “to assist with the proper restoration of streams and rivers.”

Bopp added that the department also has inspected the sections of streams that environmentalists have complained about. “DEC is currently reviewing the information gathered during the inspections,” he said in an e-mail.

Some officials are urging that the East Branch of the Ausable—the river hardest hit by Irene—be dredged to minimize flooding the future. Again, the Ausable River Association contends this would only destroy trout habitat and worsen future flooding.

“It’s not a solution to flooding,” Treadwell said. “They’d need to create a channel twenty feet deep and two hundred feet wide to carry all the water that came down with Irene. Obviously we can’t build a channel that wide and that deep. And would we really want to see a channel like that in our valley?”

Treadwell also said the river would need to be periodically dredged to maintain the channel. She and Sheehan said it would make more economic sense to help residents move out of the floodplain.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Ben says

    Total and complete overkill shown in the first photo. What a shame. Some people should not be let loose with heavy equipment. That needs to be fixed.

  2. Paul says

    I urge folks to read the Council’s letter online. I think that it goes well beyond what they really can extrapolate from what we know at this time.

    Phil, this post is much more informative than others I have read.

    Is there really anything solid to back up these claims or are we all just guessing at this point?

    What is Ms. Treadwell’s background that she bases her claims on?

    “DEC spokesman Michael Bopp said the department is working with municipalities, county officials, and the Army Corp of Engineers “to assist with the proper restoration of streams and rivers.””

    Apparently she and the council have some information that these professionals do not?

  3. Phil says

    Paul, Carol is a scientist with a Ph.D., so she is more than qualified to talk on these matters. DEC has not contradicted her. They say they are looking into the complaints.

  4. Paul says

    Phil, Thanks for the info.

    In the letter the Council says this:

    “Houseal called on Governor Cuomo to provide assistance through the Adirondack Park Agency

    and Department of Environmental Conservation to local communities in determining which roads, public facilities and private developments are in the greatest danger of future storm damage and to develop plans to rebuild them differently or to relocate them to upland areas where flooding is less likely.”

    That will ruffle some feathers down there. This is kind of a new area of work for the Council?

  5. Paul says

    Phil, do we have any “before” pictures? It would be interesting to see what Roaring Brook looked like on that section prior to the work.

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