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Forecast has Cayuga County-area officials worried about flooding, ice

A January thaw combined with mixed precipitation events Friday and Saturday could cause severe flooding and ice jams throughout Cayuga County and neighboring areas.

Cayuga County and the central New York region is in a flood watch Thursday evening through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. With temperatures rising into the 40s and 50s Thursday and Friday, snow melt and 1.5 to 2 inches of rainfall could cause waterways to rise several feet, the service added.

Niel Rivenburgh, acting director of Cayuga County Emergency Services, told legislators at a Judicial and Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday night that there could be major flooding in Moravia.

"We've let the highway departments know, (county) planning, and city water operators know about the weather," he said. "There could be some impacts. We're watching it closely."

Moravia and surrounding towns and villages are still recovering from major floods in July. Rivenburgh said with 1 to 2 inches of rain expected to fall in the area, and with unseasonably warm temperatures melting snow pack, the town could see up to four inches of water.

The end-of-the-week thaw won't last long, however. The National Weather Service is also reporting freezing rain changing into snow Friday night into Saturday. A winter storm warning is in effect from 4 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Saturday for northern Cayuga County. Snow could accumulate between 7 and 14 inches. Ice is also expected to accumulate, which could lead to power outages.

The rest of Cayuga County is in a winter storm watch. The city of Auburn could get up to 8 inches of snow. Southern areas of the county are expected to get less. Ice is also expected to build up.

The Seneca County Office of Emergency Management warned residents of potential ice jams overnight Friday in a Thursday release. Ice jams occur when rapid freezing or breakup and collection of ice during melts creates dams on rivers and streams, the release said. Jams can cause flash floods. 

The office encouraged residents to call 911 if high water moves onto your property or if you see an ice jam. 

Union Springs planning business district, park improvements

Union Springs officials are making plans for projects that are receiving $563,950 in grants from the state, two projects for improving Frontenac Park and one to investigate improving the Cayuga Street area.

The funds were announced last month as part of the state's Regional Economic Development Council program.

One of the projects is for a boat launch at Frontenac Park on the shores of Cayuga Lake. This project was awarded $154,350 via the state Department of State's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program in order to  to increase public water access and recreational activities on Cayuga Lake. The grant carries a 50-percent match requirement, which means the village has to contribute $77,175 to the project.

Two existing boat launch bays will be improved and a third launch bay will be added. The project is in part a response to having had the Bassmaster Elite fishing competition in Union Springs in June 2016, an event that drew more than 10,000 visitors to the village.

“We did it to expand it,” Mayor Bud Shattuck said of the project, “because if we can get the (Bassmaster Elite) back here that's a big tourism draw for the community.”

Additionally, a boat-washing station will be installed to reduce the spread of invasive species.

“It's important to be able to monitor and clean off boats so they're not taking seaweed and stuff from one lake, that may be contaminated, and then pulling and taking their boat to another lake and putting it in there,” Shattuck said.

Water Protection

A second park-related project was awarded $259,600 through the state Department of Environmental Conservation for the village to purchase a property adjacent to Frontenac Park for expansion and to install a riparian buffer that will help remove pollutants from water that runs through the village into Cayuga Lake. The village has to contribute $129,800 to the project.

“We had already decided to buy that property over there, and we'd already approached a donor before we got the grant, so we were going to buy it whether or not we got the grant,” Shattuck said.

The privately owned property is worth $350,000, but, Shattuck said “the money given as a gift for the property was $200,000.”

This donor's contributions to the village for the land purchase covers the village's share of the matching grant, Shattuck said.

Once the remainder of the property purchase comes out of the grant, “you've only got $80,000 or so to do the rest of it,” Shattuck said, which includes tearing down a building and installing the buffer for water remediation.

The property will be purchased in 2018, but the total time line is hard to gauge as it is contingent on some other projects.

Union Springs is currently finishing up a prior Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, and the state Department of Transportation will also be installing a bigger culvert system due to village-wide flooding problems from the current system.

All the water from the floods comes down through fields and yards, and “it's nutrient loaded,” Shattuck said. “And where does it end up? In the lake. ... So, part of this grant, is not only to purchase the property, but to put remediation in.”

The culvert system will drain into this new property, and the buffer will be able to remove the nutrients before it goes into the lake, Shattuck said.

Once the DOT has more of a timeline in place for their project, a plan for the buffer implementation will be put in place as well.

Streetscape study

A third project was awarded $150,000 via the Department of State Local Waterfront Revitalization Program to conduct an engineering study to develop designs and evaluate costs of infrastructure improvements along Cayuga Street, the village business district's main street between Center and Seminary Streets. This grant is a 25-percent matching grant, which means the village has to contribute $37,500 to the project.

“We have a main street that's old, and crowded, and half of it is falling apart,” Shattuck said.

Union Springs would like to tear up both sides to add water and sewer, bury all high voltage lines, put in new sidewalks and decorative poles instead of telephone polls with strung lines, Shattuck said.

“If you look at our main street it's like yin and yang, one side is really bustling and has businesses and such, and the other side, not so much,” Shattuck said.

If you want people to pull over and stop in the business district, it's “got to look good,” Shattuck said. “It's been hard for businesses to stay afloat,” he added.

Developing the main street, building more stories to the buildings with better views of the lake, and adding more houses and businesses are things Shattuck would like to see happen once the study and the future implementation project are completed.

This study may begin in 2018, but Shattuck was unsure as portions of this project also depend on the DOT culvert system, and could also be influenced by all the fire hydrants and main waterline valves being replaced throughout the village. Additionally, there is a sidewalk project Shattuck would also like to implement.

Because Union Springs is in the midst of multiple projects at once, Shattuck said, there is still a lot of careful planning to be done before everything is implemented.

“We have to prioritize both time-wise and dollar-wise,” Shattuck said, “I don't want to be doing things just because they seem like good things, on the backs of the taxpayers, if I have other things that have to be done.”

Gallery: Village of Union Springs grant projects

Cayuga County working to adopt roadside ditch guidelines for highway departments

After creating manure management guidelines in March, the Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency has now established a similar document for maintenance of roadside ditches. The documents aim to protect water quality by highlighting some beneficial practices for reducing pollution.

The guidelines are just that, with no enforcement or funding to help accomplish the suggestions attached.

However, with the help of county and town highway officials as well as staff from Cornell University's Local Roads Program, the pamphlet lists maintenance, design tips and other considerations the agency hopes local highway departments will use.

The WQMA passed the guidelines in November, and they are now moving through the Cayuga County Legislature. The body's Planning Committee passed the resolution adopting them Tuesday night. 

"The WQMA understands that it can be difficult for municipal road crews to improve management practices given limited budgets, heavy workloads, lack of suitable equipment, and inadequate space within the public right-of-way," the latest guidelines read. "But it hopes that the promotion of these guidelines will increase awareness of ditch maintenance issues among government employees and officials at all levels and lead to the creation of new cooperative approaches and the allocation of additional resources."

The Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program helped show the need for more attention to roadside ditches, after it completed a study of more than 100 in the watershed. More than half, the program noted, were considered a high priority to be stabilized. The inspection program has funding to help with some of those projects, but it is limited to the Owasco Lake watershed.

At the Planning Committee meeting Tuesday night, Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District Executive Director Doug Kierst said he thinks the guidelines will help raise awareness. The district, too, has received grant funding from the state for help with ditch and streambank stabilization. He encouraged towns and villages to get in touch with the district for help. 

Legal professionals, business owners disagree on proposed downtown Auburn parking ban

AUBURN — An Auburn judge and lawyer both expressed concern that an updated ban to overnight parking on Genesee Street could lead to an increase of drinking and driving in the city. 

Auburn City Court Judge Michael McKeon and defense attorney Thomas Turturo both said during Thursday's Auburn City Council meeting that banning overnight parking on an extended portion of Genesee Street would be detrimental to public safety. 

The current law prohibits parking from 4 to 7 a.m. on Genesee Street from William and Dill streets to Loop Road. The proposed parking ban would extend the ban to more parts of Genesee Street, from James Street to Owasco and John streets, and change the hours to 3 to 6 a.m. 

The idea to extend the ban came from a complaint from the owners of Hunter's Diner: William and Rachel Juhl. The Auburn Police Department received a complaint from the Juhls in regard to lack of parking for customers due to downtown residents leaving their cars parked on the street for extended periods of time. The ban is also supposed to make it easier for the department of public works to plow the street in the winter. 

McKeon, who presides over DWI court in Auburn, said when he drives on Genesee Street on Saturday and Sunday mornings around 9, he notices cars parked on the street. He said he assumes those cars were left by their owners who made a responsible choice to drink and not drive the previous night since no businesses are open that early in the morning. McKeon said he thinks the fear of getting a parking ticket will cause people to choose to drink and drive.

"You may be forcing people to decide between getting a parking ticket or drinking and driving and going home intoxicated," McKeon said.

He requested that council tweak the law, in the interest of "public safety," so the ban only covers Loop Road to John and Owasco streets. 

Turturo agreed with the judge's suggestion, saying "James Street seems really far" to enforce the ban. He also addressed the snow removal portion of the ban.

"I do understand and appreciate that public works has been enjoying a little bit more ease in plowing out those parking spots in the winter," Turturo said. "I've noticed the improvement, but given the different considerations that we're weighing here, I think that's chump change. I think that's really got to take a minimal impact. I don't think that making a couple public employees' lives a little bit more convenient — no disrespect to public works who do a great job and have an extremely hard job..." 

Mayor Michael Quill interrupted, saying "I think that comment was out of order. It's a mater of public safety in regards to snow removal. It's not in regards to making a public works employees feel better."   

William Juhl said that in the three weeks the temporary parking ban has been in effect, the diner has seen big improvements in snow removal. He said last winter, three of their customers were injured trying to get to the diner because of poor snow removal. 

"There is a safety issue, as far as getting the snow removed," Juhl said. 

Juhl said he was offended by Turturo's "chump change" comment because he and his wife have invested their own money to keep the restaurant afloat. He said the lack of parking near the diner slashed Hunter's weekend business in half. 

As far as the concerns about drinking and driving, Juhl said people should be responsible and make arrangements to get home safely or leave their car in the appropriate areas. 

"Teenagers know this stuff," he said. "And now we're asking for an exception for adults who because they're not going to make the right choice?"

Council is scheduled to vote on the updated law — which also includes changes to some traffic laws in school zones, as well as removing a traffic signal and some parking meters downtown — on Jan. 18.