The bridge over Fishing Brook washed out between Newcomb and Long Lake. This section of road is not passable. Photo courtesy of Discover Newcomb
Some routes reopen in the Adirondacks
By Jak Krouse
With the rain subsiding and the sun reemerging, roadways are beginning to reopen across the North Country thanks to the work of highway and emergency crews. However, extreme rainfall events will continue in the future and extreme damage will follow unless action is taken, says an engineering professor at Clarkson University.
“We’re seeing catastrophic flooding and we’re going to see more road failures,” said Erik Backus, who teaches civil engineering at the Potsdam school. “How to deal with that is a significant thing we need to consider going forward.”
Across the Adirondacks and other parts of New York, great volumes of water blew apart culverts, fast-cutting channels stripped roads of their supporting foundation and soils under roadways liquified until the roads on top split.
These roadways are built to withstand catastrophic rain events based on historical rainfall data, but that history is changing. Now, the region needs to prioritize strengthening roadways for the new climate conditions, said Backus.
“What are the things that are at most risk of flooding? We need to have really good vulnerability assessments done. In some cases different agencies have already begun doing that,” Backus said. “Those need to be elevated to priority projects and executed.”
Piers, culvert headwalls and structural elements may need what seems like over-design to handle higher than expected storms, Backus said.
Backus pointed out that the extensive construction necessary to strengthen roads may conflict with the environmental mission of the Adirondack Park Agency, but the state agency has been working to find a solution.
“There is no silver bullet in this,” Backus said. “It’s going to require weighing and measuring these different challenges against each other to do the least harm.”
His perspective arrives as many Adirondack communities are repairing extensive damages caused by the torrential rains of the past several days, which resulted in Gov. Kathy Hochul placing several counties in a state of emergency, including North Country regions. State environmental officers were checking dams and backcountry trails for any consequences in the wake of the rains, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Hamilton County officials said State Route 28N in the town of Long Lake continues to have all lanes closed between Long Lake and the Essex County line. But all lanes have reopened between Blue Mountain Lake and Long Lake along State Routes 30 and 28N. State Route 30 also reopened between Long Lake and the Franklin County line.
Hochul said Wednesday that severe thunderstorms and heavy rainfall is possible, particularly on Thursday and Friday although rainfall totals will not reach the amounts reached earlier this week. The additional two to three inches of rain expected could cause more flash flooding in certain areas with saturated grounds and higher water levels. In the Adirondacks, a flood watch is in effect through Thursday for all or parts of Clinton, Essex, Lewis, Hamilton, Herkimer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington Counties. For a complete listing of weather alerts and forecasts, visit the National Weather Service website at https://alerts.weather.gov.
Severe flooding along the Saranac River in Saranac ruined roadways. Photo courtesy of the Town of Saranac
However, much work needs to be accomplished in the region and beyond.
Some areas report lost internet connectivity, such as Brandreth Park near Long Lake, a region hit hard with erosion from flooding.
The bridge outside the hamlet of Newcomb over Fishing Brook was damaged with a section splitting, cutting off traffic from getting to Long Lake. The situation caused the staff at Great Camp Santanoni to evacuate. They relocated to Keeseville for Wednesday and found a campsite in North Hudson after spending the day in the Newcomb town hall along with a staffer from the SUNY Environmental Sciences and Forestry Adirondack Interpretive Center, which also closed on Tuesday, said Santanoni Historic Site Manager Wilkes Jordan.
Rangers inspecting the region reported about 50 people camping at the Lake Harris Campground in Newcomb and “in good spirits,” DEC officials said. Campground Road is expected to reopen on Thursday as water levels recede.
Rangers will be posted at the campground overnight to assist with any medical evacuation needs.
Newcomb Lake Road to Great Camp Santanoni is closed to the public and Forked Lake Campground will be closed until at least July 18 due to high water levels.
Hikers are advised to check the Adirondack Backcountry Information webpages for updates on trail conditions, seasonal road closures and general recreation information for the Adirondacks.
James M. Odato contributed to this report.
This report was updated to include information about how to help, pending storms and flash flood watches and DEC road and campsite closures.