Ithaca, N.Y. — One of the Ithaca officials responsible for natural disaster relief went to work Monday morning and discovered an unwelcome sight.

His desk had been soaked. The roof of the Department of Public Works headquarters hadn’t held up well in Sunday’s torrential downpour. A huge pile of waterlogged papers was the result.

The irony wasn’t lost on the official — Ray Benjamin, assistant superintendent of streets and facilities for Ithaca.

“The cobbler’s kids always run without shoes,” Benajmin said in an interview Monday afternoon.

“We had a ceiling tile collapse out in the hallway and everything in my hallway got soaked, and I have papers all over my place. I’m trying to dry out my notepads.”

This image was sent out by The Ithaca Fire Department Sunday.
Courtesy of Scott Ponton, via Twitter, as are the other photos in this story except for the one above. Some of the photos appear to have been taken in the town, as opposed to city, of Ithaca.

The unfixed roof at DPW is just one of many examples of how Ithaca’s repair agencies are already stretched dangerously thin by both budget cuts and an unusually high number of weather-related events this year, Benjamin said.

“This year, we’ve had more weather events than we’ve had in the last several years,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said his agency had asked for the roof to be fixed about a year ago, but that the repairs were postponed to meet more pressing needs. The streets and facilities division has lost five full-time positions over the past few years, he said.

That kind of staffing shortfall is particularly tough to overcome when mother nature refuses to cooperate.

“We’ve already used 70% of our budget for overtime,” Benjamin said, “and that’s when I was preparing a budget in early July.”

In January, ice jams flooded much of Ithaca’s Fall Creek neighborhood and cost the city around $100,000.

Then, according to Benjamin, ice jams again hit the city in March. Then there was a “wind event” in early June, heavy rains in early June again and then the thunderstorms from yesterday, according to Benjamin.

“We’re losing track of them,” Benjamin said of the events requiring their response. “We’ve had a lot of intense rain — and when it’s coming, it’s coming hard.”

The Tompkins County 911 Dispatch Center said it had received more than a dozen reports of flooded roads and a similar number of flooded homes last night.

The Ithaca Fire Department went to about 25 calls during the flooding, said Lt. Thomas Basher of the fire department on Monday.

The water rushed down the hills and flooded several roads, including over by Ithaca High School.

“We were running water in faster than we were able to drain it out,” Benjamin said.

City agencies had to remove gravel and other debris from the draining system.

“Every resource we have is out taking care of problems on the streets,” Benjamin said.

“They’re going to have to put money into it or they’re going to be back on dirt roads.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.