Mayor takes blame for 'aqua berm' OK

By Geoff Samuels
Margaretville Mayor Bill Stanton has gone on the record about the controversy that arose when Freshtown Marketplace owners Dan and Noah Katz erected an “aqua berm” around their building in the hope of averting another disaster like the one caused by last year’s Hurricane Irene.

In an interview with the News last Thursday, Stanton said unequivocally that it was his decision, on that fateful Saturday a day-and-a-half before Superstorm Sandy smashed into the New York-New Jersey Coastline, to permit the owners of Freshtown to erect the protective structure.

The mayor said that Dan Katz had informed him early in the day that they had hired a crew from Houston, TX to install the berm, but that they needed permission to put part of it on village property (which comes to within a few feet of the back of their building).

“I had to make a decision right then and there,” said Stanton adding, “The bottom line is, I gave permission to Katz to put that berm behind (the store). As mayor of this village, I take total responsibility for that…I did it.”

A little later he declared, “If a homeowner came up to me and asked me if he could build a berm around his house to keep the water from going in his yard, I would say, it’s your property, you do what you want to do.”

The mayor said that he had contacted two village board members, Iris Mead and John Van Benschoten, and that they both agreed with his decision. However, he also admitted that in a subsequent board meeting, the two remaining board members, Dave Budin and Fred Miller, had opined that he had overstepped his boundaries.

Stanton explained that he presumed the berm would be run straight across the back of the building and would divert the flood waters sideways towards the river. As it turned out, it was erected in a wedge shape with the point of the wedge running up into the village park behind the building. This put some neighboring business owners up in arms because it appeared to aim much of the potential flood waters in the direction of Main Street and the village’s business district.

“Low and behold” said the mayor, “I go over to get the paper that Sunday and here they are drilling anchors. Noah Katz was there with a tape measure and a pad of paper drawing pictures…he said we have to figure out how many bags we’ve got to have to go around the whole building.” Stanton said he was surprised when he saw the actual shape of the structure and told Katz, “That wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”

The mayor also recounted that he and Katz had debated about whether there was going to be a flood.

“I told him the weather prediction is for one to three inches,” said Stanton. “Is that going to bring that water up over the bank? No… to be honest with you…I think you’re wasting your money.”

Permanent berm
The mayor turned his thoughts towards the upcoming construction of the “bulkhead berm.” This project, slated to take place next summer, not only repairs the Binnekill Stream bulkhead (a previous source of water-related controversy), but puts in place a permanent berm along the western shore of the East Branch of The Delaware river as it skirts the far end of the playing field.
“We’ve got a FEMA work order right now…a quarter-of-a-million-dollar project,” said Stanton. “I’ve been talking to Congressman Chris Gibson’s office, he’s on board with it… he says it’s the number one priority…to protect the village.”

When asked whether he thought that would be effective in preventing future flooding the mayor responded, “If you have a flood like we had (last) August, 12 feet of water, it would go over that. But if you take a minor flood, it would kick that water down to the river…around the bend, and that’s what the FEMA work order says…to help reduce minor flooding.”

Main Street’s plight
During the interview, Stanton remarked that he was extremely happy with Freshtown’s commitment to stay in the area despite the potential risks, but warned that he’d been told by Dan Katz that if they got even one inch of water in the building again, “they’d be out of here.”

The mayor recounted how during the deliberations about whether to rebuild Freshtown after the Hurricane Irene disaster; two other businesses came to him and threatened to leave the village if the supermarket wasn’t rebuilt.

“I’ll tell you right now” said Stanton, “if that store (Freshtown) leaves the village… this village…you might as well close down.”