DEC official acknowledges stream damage from post-Irene clean-up

For the first time, an official with the state Department of Environmental Confirmation has acknowledged that post-Irene clean-up efforts have caused damage to Adirondack waterways.

Speaking with the Adirondack Explorer magazine, Chris Amato, the DEC’s assistant commissioner for natural resources, said “there are areas where some of the work that has been done has adversely affected fish habitat.”

According to Amato, the state plans to do restoration and reconstruction work to repair the damage, but he said local officials and clean-up crews weren’t to blame.

“It’s not surprising that when people are working to save lives and property, protecting trout habitat is not their first priority,” he said in an interview with the Explorer.

But now that the emergency is over, he said, DEC will assess the work and come up with a plan to repair damaged habitat. Amato said DEC will employ established stream-restoration techniques to recreate natural features such as gravel beds, pools, riffles, bends, and shoreline vegetation.

“We will re-establish the variety of habitat that naturally occurs in streams,” Amato said.

The impact of dredging, gravel removal and straightening of streams has been increasingly controversial in the weeks following Irene, though some local government officials feel that the issue has been overblown by the media.

Read the Explorer’s full article here.

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15 Comments on “DEC official acknowledges stream damage from post-Irene clean-up”

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  1. verplanck says:

    Is this some kind of stimulus project? Do the work twice? Things like this are what people think of when the term ‘wasteful government spending’ comes to mind.

    Local governments think the issue of straightening the streams is merely a media firestorm? Local green groups have called out the state and local governments on improper construction techniques, and it’s looking like they were right, judging from the tone of the DEC official.

  2. Dave says:

    I guess this wasn’t a big conspiracy by environmental groups after all…

    As frustrating as this is for many of us, from a “We told you so” perspective, if there is a silver lining it could be that this goes a long way to settling some of the debates we seem to have over and over about the need for environmental regulations, permits, and oversight.

    Now we know what happens absent those things. Who woulda thunk it? Yeah, I know…

  3. Paul says:


    Environmental regulations, permits, and oversight do not prevent damage to the environment they can only limit it.

    The question is if they had to permit the work would the level of damage been more or less? They probably would have had to do some remediation anyway.

    I think that the DEC would have made sure that this was fixed even without all the hullabaloo.

  4. This is reminiscent of the Ice Storm of ’98. After the storm was over, after the ice had fallen from the trees, the power company sent tree crews that reduced several of my maples to little more than limbless trucks. In the years since the trees mostly recovered to my amazement but as the crews were hacking away I argued that if the limbs they were cutting hadn’t fallen with the ice on them in a hundred year storm, they weren’t going to fall now. My pleas fell on deaf ears. They were in reaction mode and logic didn’t enter into it.

    Unfortunately that is how we humans often react to unusual events, we react as if this was “the new normal” and next week depended on immediate action to stop a rare event from reoccurring. We declare the Adirondacks “Forever Wild” and then when a rare but wild thing happens we go into panic mode and de-wild it. We need to view these events through the lens of our values. If we really value wilderness we have to realize that things like this are going to happen from time-to-time and unlike the slide that destroyed Avalanche Pass after Hurricane Floyd, they aren’t always going to be in the back country. At some point it involves the acceptance of a certain level of risk.

  5. Paul says:

    James, yes at best we can only limit our risk. Sometimes we are “in the way”. We have chosen to be “in the way”. There are not many places where you can get out of the way of one thing or another, so we live where we want to. That slide didn’t destroy avalanche pass it changed avalanche pass. This storm didn’t destroy the rivers it changed them. Problem is we happened to be in the way.

    In many cases we can alter the environment to make it more safe for us to live in. A house is safer than a hut. Both both have environmental impacts.

  6. Pete Klein says:

    I’ll probably get some thumbs down for this but here goes.
    Boys just want to have fun and if they get paid to have some fun, fun they will have.
    I don’t have a problem with suspending the permitting process. That was needed but the trashing that was done wasn’t required. Some had no idea of the damaging they were causing. Others couldn’t have cared less.
    Suspending the permitting process was a necessary risk. But make no mistake, it was a risk.

  7. Paul says:

    Peter, your comment is fair. I doubt it is accurate though. If you look at the work that was done it didn’t look haphazard. It looked like they were just cleaning and smoothing everything out in these sections. That may have been a mistake but I don’t think it was intentional. I still have not heard how many miles of river were affected. Maybe these folks are not as bad as you think. I have seen much worse from photos of the work in Vermont. With that said it does look like fun to operate one of those machines and to get paid that is a bonus!

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I agree, Pete, but there should have been some sensible oversight. I’ve seen some of the channelling that was done and some of it looks like it may actually cause further problems in the future, not just in terms of ecological problems but also because it will speed the aggregation of water from multiple sources.

    The objective should be to provide areas for water to leave the stream banks and flow into wetlands and low-lying areas — spread the water out, slow it down, don’t speed it along. Moving water is more powerful than any bulldozer.

  9. Nature says:

    Not sure how much true damage was caused and how long it would take to natural processes to undo such damage? Seems to me that one 50 year flood would recreate most of the stream features desired by the fisherman, enviros, and (presumably) the fish.

    Also, why do I keep seeing the same picture of one short stretch of river in this, and other related articles? How much river was actually dredged?

  10. Walker says:

    Nature, it just looks like its all the same river because all straightened, channelized rivers look alike.

    And I don’t think anyone has claimed that the work was done with malice, just ignorance. The Army Corps of Engineers did this kind of stuff for years, convinced that it was the right way to go. It isn’t.

    Maybe this will prove to have been a learning experience.

  11. Paul says:

    To correct my comment above.. “Most articles” not “every article”. There was another picture in the ADE. It is a different picture but the same part of John’s Brook.

  12. Two Cents says:

    The channeling that was done looks like a culvert/spillway along an interstate rather than a river bed complete with schoals and bends.
    Lack of experience and imagination by the excavator operators, who looked liked their only experience was constructing sumps and drainage canals.
    A child could close their eyes and envision a riverbed with more realistic, naturalistic features.
    You’re gonna need three more Irene like storms or a couple of flash floods to “fix” what was “fixed”.

  13. Two Cents says:

    i think the fact that it doesn’t look haphazard is the problem!
    Looks like something they would construct in Florida- minus the sand, of course.

  14. Walker says:

    Well, I suppose you could be forgiven for not noticing that this photo in the Explorer is of Roaring Brook, not Johns Brook, as the two now look almost exactly the same. See

    And actually, the ADE ran a picture of the Ausable River being scraped out in the same article the Johns Brook photo was in. And although the Ausable was shot across, rather than down the stream, it looks to me like they’re doing the same kind of job on it.

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