County may sue Power Authority for flood damage


By David Avitabile

Though Mother Nature may have been responsible for the rains from Hurricane Irene, Schoharie County may hold the New York Power Authority liable for some of the damages in the flood that followed.
Schoharie County supervisors will look at filing a notice of claim early next year. The notice could lead to a lawsuit to recover funds to county properties because of the flood.
Any action would not cover damage suffered by residents or private property but just county-owned properties that were damaged.
The county building, the jail and the highway facility suffered extensive damage in the August 28 flood and some county offices have still not returned to their original locations.
The issue was expected to discuss the issue at a flood committee meeting this week and could take action at the board re-organizational meeting set for Monday, January 2 at 10am.
County officials have said that a surge of water released by the Power Authority significantly raised the water level on August 28.
Earl VanWormer of Esperance called it a "major release that raised the water level significantly."
Jim Buzon, the supervisor-elect from Middleburgh said a release of 20,000 gallons could have raised the water level about three feet and recommended legal action.
"They don't respect this county," Dennis Richards, the current supervisor from Middleburgh.
The amount of information released by the Power Authority has been much less after the August 28 flood than after the flood of January 1996, he said.
The Power Authority, he said, is hiding behind the Homeland Security rules.
"You can't control what comes out of the heavens," he said, but what was released was not controlled.
Judith Warner, director of the county's emergency management office said a release caused a surge of water and a letter asking for an investigation of the water release was sent. There was no response.
She said data from the Power Authority definitely indicates a release noting that the outflow increased from 25,000 cubic feet per second, to 50,000 to 75,000 to 100,000 in 20-minute intervals.
There was another release a few weeks ago and the interim CEO of the Power Authority called after the fact and apologized that there was no notification.
"We should be notified of any release down the Schoharie Valley corridor," said Schoharie Supervisor Martin Shrederis.
"It's not happening."
A notice of claim does not mean that the county will sue for damages, said county attorney Michael West, but is necessary if a municipality is going to be sued.
He called it "a precursor to bringing a lawsuit."
The statute of limitations for a notice of claim is usually 90 days, Mr. West said, but courts are liberal with the timeline, especially in cases of disasters.
A 90-day window would have passed in late November.
"No court is going to say we're not going to give you extra time," Mr. West told supervisors Friday.
If they file a notice of claim, county officials would have one year to take action, Mr. West said.
He added that he is not sure that the county has to get a notice of claim because the Power Authority may not be classified as a municipality such as the county.
If no notice is required, the county would have up to three years to sue the NYPA for damages.
Mr. West said county officials could ask if other towns and villages in the county want to become party to the notice.