Town wants safe dam

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — The dam at Myosotis Lake is in good shape, but the town is taking measures to make sure it’s prepared in the event of a catastrophe.

At last week’s town board meeting, Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg expressed concerns about the dam breaking, but the discussion was brief. He also proposed a series of amendments to the town’s code of ethics, which was passed last month; only one was approved.

Nickelsberg said this week that his fear of a flood came from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. “They told us that they’re worried about it,” he said. “The structural and hydrology guys are concerned about it, and we just want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The “hydrology guy” is Rick Woidt, president of Woidt Engineering and Consulting in Binghamton, N.Y.

“Basically, there’s no imminent fear of the dam breaking,” Woidt said. “It’s part of the dam regulation process of the New York State DEC to have periodic inspections and engineering assessments of dams.” The dam at Myosotis Lake, he said, happens to be a Class-C, high-hazard dam. “There is potential for damage and loss of life, which is why it’s classified as a high-hazard dam — again, not that there’s an imminent threat.”

Since it’s a high-hazard dam, part of that process is going through a what-if scenario, Woidt said. This would involve determining where the flood-water would go, and the potential affects of a dam-break flood.

“They were kind of proactive on this, and hired me to do an assessment,” Woidt said of the town. “Part of that assessment is a hydrologic analysis, and figuring out, where does that flood wave go?”

To answer that question, Woidt produced what is called inundation mapping, or flood mapping. “It goes probably 10 miles downstream,” he said of the projected flood wave. “The major area of concern is right downstream, in the hamlet, right when you come into Rensselaerville, the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve, a couple bridges, I think 10 or 15 inhabited homes, and four or five roadways or bridges,” he said.

“High-hazard dams should be inspected periodically,” Woidt added. “They hired me and Dave Briggs; we inspected the dam about two weeks ago.” David Briggs, the aforementioned “structural guy,” was unavailable for comment.

“Sections of the spillway channel are old and deteriorated; pieces have broken off,” Woidt said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed and repaired.”

The next order of business, Woidt said, is for the town to create an emergency action plan based on his inundation map and what-if scenarios.

“They tell me that there’s a chance that it could happen,” Nickelsberg said,
“and even if there’s a 1-percent chance, I want to know that we’ve done what we can.”

Ethical amendments

As promised last month, Nickelsberg proposed a series of amendments to the town’s code of ethics at last week’s meeting. Although he had long pushed for an ethics code, he did not vote to accept it. Of these amendments, only one passed.

Schedule A, paragraph I formerly read, “To the extent allowed by law, the Town of Rensselaerville Board of Ethics shall be exempt from the Freedom of Information Law and from the Open Meetings Law.”

Nickelsberg, in favor of transparency, proposed that the words “exempt from” be changed to “subject to.” After some discussion, his proposed change was passed unanimously.

“I wanted to make sure that, in any way possible, we give anybody in town information under the Freedom of Information Law,” Nickelsberg explained. “We need to aggressively get that information and aggressively interpret the law. We’re going to err on the side of full disclosure. Of course, that’s subject to interpretation of a lawyer.”

Nickelsberg had no such luck with his other amendments.

“One thing I said was that all officials should recuse themselves from voting on employment or salaries of an immediate family member, inclusive of parent, spouse, and child,” Nickelsberg said.

Earlier this year, councilman Gary Chase voted on his mother taking the position of clerk to the highway superintendent; he also voted on her salary. His father, G. John Chase, is current highway superintendent.

Nickelsberg was also hoping for a vote in favor of giving the board of ethics decision-making power, rather than leaving it as a body that renders advisory opinions.

“The board of ethics doesn’t have any authority to enforce anything, and they’re going to be appointed by the town board,” he said. “In this case, what we’ve said is that we’ve put the ethics down, and we said that the town board picks the board of ethics.”

He said that he has two problems with this.

“First of all, they’re going to pick their friends and family members just like they did in January of this year,” he said. “And secondly, the board that they do pick has no power whatsoever.”

Another of his desired changes referred to a line on the first page of the code of ethics, which states that officers and employees of Rensselaerville shall not accept gifts greater than or equal to $25 in value. “I wanted take the $25 and take it down to zero as far as gifts that are allowed,” said Nickelsberg.

But whether it be favoring transparency, or giving the board of ethics the power to decide, Nickelsberg said, “the rules need to be absolute.”

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard from town attorney Joseph Catalano that American Tower said it would conduct a structural analysis of a cell phone tower in the town that has been called “structurally unsound,” though American Tower claims that the tower has no structural problems. [See, under archives for Aug. 28 in Rensselaerville];

— Scheduled budget workshops for Tuesday, Sept. 23; Wednesday, Sept. 24; and Thursday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m.;

— Heard from Clerk Kathleen Hallenbeck that she will present a tentative budget to the board on Oct. 2;

— Unanimously accepted Tylor Lee and Josh Chase as members of the Medusa Fire Company; and

— Voted unanimously to keep the town newsletter, and to purchase a new copy machine with printing and stapling capabilities, allowing the town newsletter to be produced entirely in-house.

More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.