It has been more than a year since Lodi and other areas of Southern Seneca County were ravaged by historic flooding.
However, the residents who call Lodi Point home are reminded daily of the devastation experienced in August 2018. Some homes have been rebuilt or saved, others demolished to make way for new. That said, an incredible amount of work remains.
“There is no single state of recovery,” explained Lodi Town Councilman Paul Batman. “Some people have barely made any progress. Those are the ones who got flooded out and are not rebuilding.” He said that most people impacted by the flood in Lodi did not have flood insurance. To make matters worse, Batman said the promise of state and federal funding was confusing to residents, many of whom still remain uncertain about their options.
A deadline came and went over the summer to secure some funding, but even the funding that was well-advertised failed to go far enough, according to officials in Lodi.
“The promised financial support from FEMA and New York State was confusing and unavailable for businesses and second home owners,” Batman continued. “Even then it was handed out in small enough amounts to not make much of a difference.”
Lodi Town Supervisor Lee Davidson says that residents were promised funding from various sources - including $50,000 from Catholic Charities. However, those funds were not attainable if residents did not have flood insurance, according to the Supervisor. It created headaches, and ongoing uncertainty for homeowners in Lodi.
Rating recovery on a 1-to-10 scale, Batman says that Lodi is at a seven in the “best case scenarios.” Other parts of Lodi remain at a one despite cleanup efforts, which have long been completed. “Many people are still recovering financially, or just haven’t finished their recovery efforts because of the enormity of the task at hand,” Batman said.
Officials say problems have cropped up since the initial flooding rains, which totaled more than 9 inches over the 24-hour period in August 2018.
Both Batman and Davidson say an issue in early July prompted new concern. “It’s not fixed,” Davidson explained. “If we get a big rain, Mill Creek is going to flood again.”
Davidson said that engineers told the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to change the flow of Mill Creek after the 2018 flood. “We didn’t have those issues before 2018,” Davidson continued. “We don’t know what’s going to happen if we get another big rain.”
There are two primary flaws that flooding, and the response to it, have exposed at the state level, according to officials.There’s the funding, or path to recovery funds for those in Lodi, which they say was not made clear enough to them. “The state has not been doing enough. The money is scarce, difficult to apply for, and full of unwarranted stipulations,” Batman said. “For example, my understanding is that businesses were not eligible for any of the disaster relief funding. At least that’s what one business owner told me. Also, there is no one person in the state bureaucracy to speak with about flood relief. I spent two weeks, several hours, and filled six pages of notes just trying to find out who had a path for us to follow.”
To make matters worse, the losses will be felt in the Town’s budget as they lose tax base to those who simply can’t recover in Lodi.
The second issue is the environmental one, involving Mill and Blackwell creeks. Both jumped their banks during the 2018 flood, and the very real possibility that it could happen again—with significantly less rainfall—was partly realized this summer.
Davidson said that on July 6, Blackwell Creek exceeded its banks after receiving upwards of 3 inches of rainfall. However, neighbors started seeing problems when only an inch of rain had fallen. Davidson says the Town’s Highway Department responded, and worked to address a culvert, which was believed to be the problem.
The DEC responded by saying that Lodi should not have made those moves.
Davidson and Batman say the Town was stepping up to do what state officials failed to make happen: Ensure residents feel safe in their homes as flows increase into Mill and Blackwell creeks.
Batman believes he knows why both are exceeding their banks on such a regular basis. It’s tied to the way agriculture has been managed in the area for the last 50 to 60 years.
“New York State and the Federal Government have supported agricultural practices that channel excess surface water to local creeks through drainage tiles,” Batman explained. “They took out hedge rows, too, and the Mill Creek stream bed can no longer accommodate the amount of runoff water being channeled in its direction.”
Batman reiterated that frustration with the state’s response to the 2018 flood. “In addition, the remediation plans implemented by the DEC and Army Corps of Engineers seem to rely on models that were based on ‘how the creek had always been’,” he said. “There is no normal anymore.”
Officials say property owners have not been willing to sacrifice their property for solutions to the creek bed, or creek flow at Mill or Blackwell. “Right now we are developing a set of drawings to change the creek flow and reinforce one of the banks that almost resulted in another flood this past July 6,” Batman said. “With support of the DEC regional permit administrator, Tom Healey, we have been encouraged to create these plans without needing drawings to scale or engineering specs.”
It’s something that Batman said local residents are eager to help out with. “The biggest opportunity for meaningful recovery is that it have a context of broad-based long-term solutions,” Batman concluded. This will all necessitate coordinating active efforts to remediate decades of changes in the features of the Seneca Lake Watershed. “Those changes, for a variety of reasons, have come from human behavior and have created an unhealthy, unbalanced watershed ecosystem.”