NEWFIELD, NY – Congressman Tom Reed visited Newfield early Saturday morning for a Town Hall to talk about issues spanning from flooding in Newfield to global warming.
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Discussion of flooding in Newfield and other parts of Tompkins dominated the first hour of the discussion.
Corey Cahill, a resident of Shelter Valley Road, acted as an impromptu spokesperson in expressing many of the concerns about flooding in the town to Congressmen Reed.
Shelter Valley Road is flanked by two creeks that ultimately feed into Cayuga Lake. The Shelter Valley neighborhood — along with many other areas in Newfield and Danby in particular — were devastated by an intense flood in June of last year.
While the June flood was an anomaly with almost six inches of rain falling in just a few hours, the flooding issue has been an ongoing one for Newfield. As recently as this week, snows melted and raised the creeks to dangerously high levels once again.
Cahill said that the effects of prior floods hadn’t been cleaned up. Sedimentation had gathered, raising the level of the creek beds, the banks had been eroded and numerous fallen trees had created jams which make each flood worse than the last.
“We’re probably going to lose Shelter Valley Road today,” Cahill said, due to the warm temperature.
Confusion and contradictions with the DEC
According to Cahill, the big problem is that there’s a lot of confusion and contradictions as to how residents are supposed to protect themselves from floods. The creeks near Cahill’s home are protected by the Department of Environmental Conservation as a habitat for trout.
The problem, Cahill and others argued, is that the DEC offers only restrictions and regulations but no does nothing to help protect the residents from floods.
The permitting rules are unclear and unenforced, so each person is left to their own devices. Some may not take action wanting to avoid the permitting process or fearing a fine. Others may not even realize that it falls on them to keep parts of the creek on their property clean.
This has lead to some circumstances where one person takes action to protect his or her own property but those actions ultimately just divert the water and create an even bigger person for the next person downstream.
Another Newfield woman who lives on Carter Creek Road, on the other end of Shelter Valley, shared a story of how an earlier flood had damaged the heating system in her basement. This caused the water to get contaminated with oil, for which she was fined and ultimately had a lien put on her house.
When June’s flood ravaged her home again, the DEC told her that they couldn’t help her because it was a protected waterway.
She told them, “You’re protected water is getting away from you and destroying my home.”
The general theme of the conversation seemed to be that the DEC was not proactive enough in helping the town and its residents prepare for the flood. For most who spoke on the issue, interactions with the DEC were frustrating at the least, if not outright counterproductive.
Too much for a little town
To top it all off, former Newfield town board member Ray Trask reported that the repairing the damage from the June flood had drained the town’s reserves.
“It’s just not possible for a little town Newfield can clean all those creeks. We don’t have the manpower, or the resources or the equipment or the money,” said Trask.
Congressman Reed’s response was to put a plan in motion that would set up a joint meeting with all the stakeholders — town officials, affected residents, DEC representatives — in the same room to work through the issue.
“What really hasn’t happened is identifying what is the source of the problem — the sedimenation, the streams meandering, getting outside of its banks, the clogs — we need to come up with a solution beforehand so that you don’t put the town in a situation where it has to go to its till to clean it up afterward,” Reed said.
Reed’s staff collected the names of interested and affected residents and said his goal would be to put pressure on the the local DEC to work with the community and put together a plan to tackle the issue.
Reed’s townhall touched on a few other issues.
Reed talked about the upcoming discussions on the federal budget, saying that while he was concerned about the growth of mandatory government spending levels which have grown drastically over the years.
Reed engaged with a few members of the public in a spirited debate over Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Reed said that he was against the TPP under its current language, and that he felt that the agreement wouldn’t pass in Congress or the Senate at this time.
Reed said his primary concerns with the TPP involved currency manipulation, dairy opportunities and intellectual property rights, and he felt that the Obama administration hasn’t been pushing hard enough to get more out of the agreement. He added that the TPP was important as a point of leverage in trade talks with China, even if China is not directly involved with the TPP.
The last point of discussion revolved around climate change, where the position seemed to be one of “agree to disagree.” Reed’s position was that the United States had made tremendous progress in reducing carbon emissions. He said that the new goal should be to work with countries like India and China — who have become the biggest sources of carbon emissions — to reduce emissions in those countries.
Some who spoke felt that Reed’s view was letting American off the hook too easily. One woman suggested that the reason that India and China had overtaken the US as polluters was because the US and western Europe had shimply shifted their manufacturing bases to those countries.
Others questioned Reed’s continued support of fracking. Reed said that if fracking could be done safely, and he believed it could, then natural gas could become an important supplement to the United State’s energy plan.
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