By Robin Jovanovich
Rye will always be a desirable place to live. It’s a charming, old-fashioned community with an abundance of open space, excellent public and private schools, tight-knit neighborhoods, and access to waterfront and beaches. But it will always flood.
Hurricane Ida drove home the point that the City, the County, and State must act in concert to mitigate flooding here. No one governmental body can do it alone.
After the back-to-back flooding in spring 2007, which caused damage to our businesses, homes, roads, bridges, and sidewalks, the City formed a committee, hired hydrology consultants, and considered various courses of action. Ultimately, we installed an electronic sluice gate at the Bowman Avenue Dam in June 2013. It was designed to lessen the flow of Blind Brook and increase water storage capacity at the Dam.
But no sluice gate can stop a major storm or diminish its impact.
Ida tore through Rye, flooding basements and first floors that had never been flooded in living memory.
The Rye City schools suffered extensive damage. In a letter to the community, Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Byrne detailed the destruction — electrical systems, many first-floor classrooms, the newly installed Turf Field at Rye High School.
The Rye Library, the Rye Y, the Locust Avenue Firehouse, Rye Country Store, Ruby’s, Fong’s, Meso, Pet Pantry, retail shops, small businesses suffered unimaginable losses.
Rye Police and Fire rescued over a dozen people, extracting them from cars and basements, and, in one case, a rooftop. DPW has worked miracles picking up mounds of ruined furniture, water-laden boxes, and debris while keeping to its regular pickup schedule.
Interim Public Safety Commissioner, RPD Lieutenant Mike Anfuso, who grew up in Rye and whose father worked for DPW for 42 years, told us “I had never seen Midland, Intervale, Peck flood so much and so fast. We opened the courthouse at 11 p.m. for those who were rescued. They were visibly shaken.”
RFD Captain John McDwyer has been around Rye for 45 years, 30 of those in the fire department. “In the first hour, it rained four inches; that could be a month’s rain. I never saw anything like it.”
A week later, the water has receded, but many roads and parking lots have been washed out, basements have still not dried out, and we are left with dozens of residents who have had to move out of their homes so that substantial remediation can occur. The Edmonton basement development is the one to take charge of the construction and improvement.
Many businesses that were shuttered during Covid lockdown and were still struggling to recover suffered significant storm damage, and it’s apparent from the number of dumpsters and remediation service trucks downtown that their recovery time will be lengthy and expensive.
Ida pulled the asphalt up from parking lots, uprooted trees, tossed cars across streets.
As Mayor Josh Cohn noted in one of his community calls, the night Ida raged was terrifying.
Rye can’t “afford” another storm like that — personal loss, lost commerce, delay of school openings, road repair, stretched emergency services.
We can’t “afford” to spin our wheels putting together a flood committee, hiring more consultants, waiting a year or years for results of a study; we need to move ahead with a mitigation plan.
Assemblyman Steve Otis, who was mayor of Rye in 2007 and, at the time, made an excellent case for ways to retain more water upstream (one didn’t happen because SUNY Purchase wouldn’t allow expansion of the retention pond on its property, another because a third of the property along the lower pond was owned by a developer) told the paper: “Every community needs to revisit its flood mitigation plan, fortify its infrastructure, and put a priority on upstream water retention.”
The next City Council meeting is September 22, 7 p.m. Your presence is needed.