Although the town of Shandaken was on tenterhooks before the storm of Wednesday, March 11, the flooding seemed to be minor — a few basements needing to be pumped out, huge puddles on the roads. But that Friday, the Ulster County Health Department sent inspectors to Phoenicia, and Sweet Sue’s, the popular Main Street restaurant, was closed down due to septic failure.
Kevin DuMond, the health department’s director of environmental services, said the closure was due to “flooding conditions and the extremely high water table. The septic field was flooded out. Any wastewater coming from the building couldn’t be absorbed by the ground and was being forced to the surface of the ground.”
He said he had sent out the inspectors because of previous problems with flooding in the town. They checked on all facilities — mostly restaurants — that obtain permits from the department. “But if we if saw signs of another failure while walking around,” DuMond added, “we would’ve addressed those as well.”
As far as what the restaurant owner, Sue Taylor, will have to do in order to reopen, DuMond explained, “In her situation, the only thing she could do is wait for the groundwater level to recede. Then she’ll need to pump out the septic system because it’s flooded out.”
He declined to speculate on how long it will take for the groundwater to recede. “It depends on the environmental conditions at the time,” he said, adding, “Even if she put in a new septic system, that wouldn’t solve her problem because it’s still subject to the level of the groundwater. Even a new system could get flooded. The only thing that will solve her particular problem is central sewers.”
Phoenicia has been under pressure from the county and New York City to install a sewer system for over a decade. In a 2007 referendum, Phoenicia residents rejected a proposed system. The Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), with the approval of the Shandaken town board, is currently studying options for a new proposal. Their study is scheduled to be completed this fall.
DuMond added, “It doesn’t mean there aren’t other residences or businesses in the hamlet that don’t exhibit same problems. If we had seen any, we would have investigated.”
In fact, a number of businesses on that section of Main Street have septic issues when groundwater is high, said Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley. “The issue with Sue’s is it’s a publicly used restroom.”
Regarding the closing of the restaurant, he commented, “It’s harmful to the economy of the town. Everybody can see the line of business created there, especially during warm weather. I’m trying to get in touch with the CWC and DEP [New York City Department of Environmental Protection] to see what we can do in the interim, since Phoenicia’s under consideration for the sewer. I hope they can work with Sue to minimize the cost to her.”
Stanley said Taylor has hired an engineer to assess the situation. He surmised that a “pump-and-haul” system might be usable until a sewer system is installed, and he said there is some precedent for the cost being supported by CWC and/or DEP.
Taylor could not be reached for comment.
Sewer study and flood application updates
Stanley said the CWC’s study regarding installation of a sewer system is proceeding. He has a copy of a letter that will be sent out to residents of the water district, indicating that Lamont Engineering, which is in charge of the study, will be sending representatives into the community. “They’ll be taking soil samples, looking at elevations, asking people about their septic fields — looking to collect as much information as they can on the existing situation.”
He also reported that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) last week sent the town a letter approving the completeness of the application for digging out the Stony Clove Creek, for purposes of flood prevention in Phoenicia.
“They forced us to put in a public notice about our action, including a clause that says it probably won’t work,” said Stanley, “It gives them up to 90 days to make a decision on the application. Even though we were six inches from the water going down Main Street last week, they don’t see an imminent threat. But they are accepting public comments — they’re mandated to do it.”
People wishing to submit comments to DEC may call their office at 845-256-3000. ++