The day the river destroyed Malone

February 9, 2013

crash

—Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

I imagine it happening in the middle of the night.  (These things often seem to occur in the wee hours, when no one’s around.  At least, I hope that will be the case.)

Nina and I are awakened by a huge crash.  A tremendous boom.  Like an explosion.  Our house shakes.  (We live on Clay Street; I’m almost certain our house will shudder like it does during an earthquake.  Except this earthquake will be man-made.)

Then, sirens.  Wailing, wailing as every fire company for 30 miles around arrives on the scene.  State police, village police, border patrol—all will be there.  Then huge klieg lights, eerily illuminating the downtown.  And the acrid smell, like a pall over the village.

Within minutes, I notice there’s traffic going down Clay Street.  (Ah, yes.  Main Street has been sealed off.)

Such will be the day when the river destroys Malone.

What I just outlined will be the best scenario, mind you, the one we should all hope and pray for.

The bad scenario is:  The collapse happens during the day.  A busy day of traffic downtown.  That is to say, an ordinary day of traffic crawling through the narrow canyon of centuries-old buildings lining Malone’s historic downtown—a downtown now turned murderous.  When suddenly the entire front of this huge building pitches forward onto traffic and perhaps pedestrians, oblivious to the time-bomb which has been silently parked there by the bridge, lo all these years.  Biding its time.

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Sirens.  Downtown cordoned off.  Casualties.  Ambulances.  And we all suck in our breath in horror and tell one another, “Such a tragedy!  Nina Pierpont was on her way to Price Chopper in her white Subaru.  Rescue teams are down there now, trying to extricate her from the car.  She appears to be alive, but there’s lots of blood.”

“Has anyone told her husband, yet?”

Nina Pierpont—or you, or me—won’t be the only one.

This building—#395 W. Main St—is going to fall into the Salmon River.

The most significant problem of this building is the questionable soundness and stability of the exterior walls, particularly the east, stone-masonry wall which is founded in the riverbed. This wall is supporting all of the interior floors. Failure of this wall would likely result in complete and catastrophic failure of the entire building.

This wall has a noticeable bulge, approximately an 8” displacement outward, at the center of the main floor, basement, and sub-basement levels. It has not been determined if this is due to instability (buckling) of the wall or due to a shifting of the foundation. This movement has already pulled the support beams for the sub-basement floor out of their wall pockets, resulting in failure and collapse of approximately half of the sub-basement floor.

Collapse of this floor caused collapse of several pipe-columns supporting the basement floor, above, exacerbating the building’s problems. This movement has also pulled the beams (supporting the basement and floor joists for the main floor) out of their wall pockets, reducing bearing to an inch or less in some cases. Further movement of this wall could cause failure of the basement and main floors, initiating catastrophic failure of the entire building.

I am quoting from a report by John MacArthur, Senior Engineer for Beardsley Design Associates, Malone.  (Click here for the entire report.  By the way, all the quotations in my article are taken from MacArthur’s report, as are all the photos except for one which I took.  All textual notations on the photos were made by Mr. MacArthur, who did the report at the request of the Village Trustees.  It’s dated November 30, 2012.)

You drive by it every day.  It stands like a fortress, anchoring the west end of the Salmon River bridge.  Five stories high, towering 90′ above the riverbed.  “From the street level and below, the building is constructed of mortared stone masonry with walls approximately 30” thick.”  The upper floors are brick.

Rob Haynes, head of the local NYS Dept of Transportation, swears the bridge won’t collapse when this building buckles and, on the way down, begins clawing at the adjoining building (For Art’s Sake) and bridge and highway—although I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be driving across the bridge when it happens—the poor bastard who proves the DOT geniuses right or, gulp, wrong. (Remember what all the armchair engineers with their computer models said about the World Trade Center—before it did what we all knew it would do under immense impact?  Though in that case, admittedly, there was devastating heat from the fires.)

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clm3

That’s a lot of stone and brick and steel beams and huge wooden beams that are going to crash into the river.

“Collapse of this building would likely damage the building across the river [Zukie’s old building] and fill the riverbed with debris to a depth of perhaps twenty feet or more. This could dam up the river, flooding the basement of the building [Zukie’s] on the opposite shore, which contains a hydroelectric facility.”

Building5a

Some of that “bombs away” will plunge onto Main Street and, unfortunately, will happen like the biblical “thief in the night.”  No notice.  No advance warning.  Nor siren, like what happens when a tornado is on the way.

It will just—happen.

But will it happen, you’re wondering?  I’ll let Mr. MacArthur answer that:

Doing nothing is not an acceptable course of action, due to risk to the safety of the public and liability to the Village. It does not appear that collapse of the building is imminent. However, it is not possible to determine how much more damage it can suffer before reaching the point of collapse.

In the past two years, it appears that the building’s east, exterior wall has moved outward approximately 2”. The building, if left in its current state, will continue to deteriorate.

If the roof is not repaired, its structure and the structure of the wood floors will suffer.

The remaining amount of bearing surface supporting the floor structure could not be determined. If the east wall continues to move outward, the remaining floors will partially or completely collapse. This event will most certainly initiate a sudden progressive collapse of the entire structure, potentially resulting in loss of life, certainly resulting in significant damage to adjoining structures, to Village infrastructure and to the environment.

This event could occur in 1-2 years or it could be imminent; it is not possible to predict.

In short, it’s not a question of “if” but “when.”  (Kind of like playing Russian roulette.  You know there’s a live round in one of the chambers, and one day . . . )

Let’s go outside and have a smoke.  Calm our nerves, okay?  You’re wondering about the owner:  Why doesn’t he (she) fix it?  Would it surprise you to learn, there is no owner?  The building is registered to a mysterious, flimflam outfit in—Turkey.  A phony corporation which has not paid taxes on the building in years.

We are not going to get any blood out of that stone.  Like the Flanagan, this is now our catastrophe, our train wreck.

(Mind if I bum another cigarette?  You’d better have one, too, ’cause the story gets worse.)

Did you notice the little red arrow in the photograph above?  You’re probably wondering why I inserted it.

The little arrow, my friend, is why I titled this article, “The day the river destroyed Malone.”  Emphasis on the word “destroy.”

Look closely at what the arrow is pointing to.  “A pipe,” you say.  You’re right.

Lean in closer; take a better look.

Building5a

That 12″ cast iron pipe carries 1.2 million gallons of raw sewage, daily, from the hundreds of homes, 5 schools, and many businesses on the south side of Main Street, to the sewage treatment plant downriver—so I have been told by a Village Trustee.

You heard me right:  1,200,000 gallons of untreated sewage flows through that conduit, more or less every single day, running by gravity to the sewer plant.  (Note:  The report shows the sewer main being 12″ in diameter in one of the drawings.  I suspect the diameter is larger than this.  Twelve inches seems too modest to handle 1.2 million gallons of sewage/day.)  Since publishing this article, last weekend, I was in a meeting with the head of the DPW, Paul Hutchins, who said 1.2 million gallons/day of sewage is erroneous; it’s more on the order of 400,000 gallons/day.  Mr. MacArthur was at this meeting and explained to Mr. Hutchins that this was his, MacArthur’s, calculation.  Since Mr. MacArthur once upon a time did considerable work on Malone’s sewer system, including gauging volume, I would not say that Mr. Hutchins is necessarily correct in his 400,000 estimate.  Secondly, you will see a comment added, below, by a gentleman who used to work for the Village DPW.  He notes that there are in fact 2 twelve-inch sewer mains running through the Salmon River gorge, here—running side-by-side.

There is a large sewer main exposed in the river bed, about 20 feet from the base of the building. This main serves a significant portion of the Village and on average carries approximately 1.2 million gallons of raw sewage per day.

Collapse of the building would rupture this main causing a significant environmental hazard and disrupting sewer service to a large percentage of the Village of Malone.

Now, look at this picture, focusing on the red arrow.

Building4a

Imagine all that stone (remember, 30″-thick walls) and brick (upper 2 floors) and steel and wooden beams and whatnot—is going to land, “bullseye,” on that sewer main, carrying . . . and burying that pulverized pipe beneath 20′ of debris.

Let’s have another cigarette.  (You don’t happen to have a flask of brandy on you, do you?)

Here are a few more pictures, showing the inside of the building—showing you what’s holding up the massive wall which is going to “take out” Malone’s main sewer line.  (Let me correct that.  I should have written, “Showing you what’s not holding up that massive wall.”)

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Here’s a nice shot of one of the lower-floor beams, pulling out of the wall-pocket.

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This is one of my favorites.  Notice the wall separating from the floor.  (Ponder the thickness of that wall!)

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Another wall crack, growing wider, wider . . .

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View from the riverbank, north side.  Focus on those enormous cracks.

Then, for the icing on the cake, let’s walk down to the basement.  (Watch your step.)

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Um, there is no basement.  The bottom floor—well, half of it—has vanished, in Mr. MacArthur’s words, into the “void.”  (This is beginning to sound like Dante’s “Inferno.”  The “void” of hell.)

Approximately half of the concrete and steel sub-basement floor has collapsed into the void below the sub-basement floor. Several columns are missing, supporting the basement-floor beams.

Remember when the Tavern Arms (Nicci’s) fell down?  And the Baptist Church?   They were child’s play compared to this—whenever it happens.  Just the warm-up act.  Like those California tremors I used to experience, nervously, when I Iived there, as we all waited for The Big One.

Mr. MacArthur made a cross-sectional sketch of the whole catastrophe.  It’s worth examining carefully.  He explains his notations in the body of the report (click here).  (The cross-sectional perspective is taken from the bridge, as though you are standing in the riverbed, with your back to the bridge and looking downriver—north—with Zukie’s building on the right bank, and #395 Main on the left bank.)

Drawing2

Again, the red arrow pointing at that innocent-lookng circle:  Malone’s sewer main.  (Incidentally, notice that I have cut off the top 3 floors of the building, in my screenshot, above.)

Okay, so what do we do about it?  Let’s rephrase this:  “What are they going to do about it?”  Where “they” is the government.  Village, town, county, state, federal.

It turns out, nobody knows.  Everybody’s stumped.  That’s why it’s been 2 ½ months since MacArthur submitted his report, and nothing has happened.  Except that’s not true, for much has happened behind the scenes.  Even Betty Little and Janet Duprey have been summoned.  And there’s excited talk of Congressman Bill Owens being contacted.  And the media has been having a ball with this.

Even so, everyone’s stumped.  Who do we call?  911?  The DEC?  The federal EPA?  Army Corps of Engineers?  U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services (because of the 1,200,000 gallons of raw sewage we are going to be discharging into the river and, ultimately, into Canadian waters)?  Raw sewage is a health issue, isn’t it?  (Click here to read Dr. Pierpont’s letter to the Village Mayor and County Administrator.)

And what about discharging all this sewage into Canadian waters:  Wouldn’t that suggest an international issue?  Um, the State Dept?

Problem is, when we’re trying to figure out who to call, we can’t tell the feds or the state that the catastrophe has happened—not yet.  And, if it has not yet happened, will any of these agencies get involved?  (My guess is they won’t.)

So, do we wait while this time bomb ticks away?  Till that still night in July when suddenly all hell breaks loose.  Till my house shudders and I leap out of bed, thinking a bomb went off, and all the sirens start screaming.  Then we call the DEC, EPA, Army Corps, Health & Human Services, and, um, State Dept?

But, wouldn’t that be—dare I say it?—stupid?  Reckless and absurd?  And what about my wife in the Subaru, driving to Price Chopper—if it doesn’t happen on a July night, but during daylight hours?

Is there any more whiskey in that flask?  Read this while you’re taking a swig:

Note: Taking no action is not a cost saving measure—it would avoid initial costs but would place the public safety at extreme risk. The potential future costs and liabilities would be multiple millions of dollars.

We recommend speaking with your insurance broker and your legal counsel in this regard. We are not sure if it is insurable in its current state.

Insurable?  This brings to mind Tim Lashomb.  Lashomb Insurance Agency, on the other side of the bridge where this “bomb” is going to go off.  When it does go off, and a host of state & federal agencies arrive to clean up the god-awful mess, consider this:  How much of Main Street is going to be blocked off by heavy equipment and huge trucks hauling away many tons of debris being fished out of the river?  One lane?  Two lanes?  Three?

Come to think of it, how many months is this going to take?  Three?  Four?  More?

Anyhow, what is all this massive & intricate “clean-up” going to do to downtown businesses—like the Lashomb Agency?

And what about Malone’s image?  I’m referring to 1,200,000 gallons of raw sewage being disgorged into the river, daily, until all “the king’s horses and all the king’s men” manage to divert this stuff and put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  Ask Hugh Hill, Exec. Dir. of the Chamber of Commerce, what this will do for Malone’s public image.

(Um, what about the odor?  What about the cloud of asbestos, etc., that will be released when, at 2 am on that hot July night, the Crash happens—like Armageddon?)

All those passages, above, quoted from the MacArthur report?  I left out his underlining and bold typeface, where he as much as shouts, “Listen, folks, this is serious.  As in s-e-r-i-o-u-s!”

As in, “What part of ‘serious’ don’t you understand?”

Serious problems call for serious measures.  And I have a serious yet simple answer to this doomsday report.  Click here.

Mayor Todd LePine can declare a State of Emergency.

The document you just clicked open, in the paragraph above, is a legal opinion by a staff attorney for the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES).  Her name is Kristine Hoffman, she’s with the Office of Emergency Management, and she wrote her report on April 13, 2012.   It begins with the following:

INFORMATION FOR LOCAL CHIEF EXECUTIVES REGARDING DECLARING A STATE OF EMERGENCY AND ISSUING EMERGENCY ORDERS

The following information can be used by local Chief Executives and Emergency Managers on matters pertaining to declaring a “local state of emergency,” pursuant to Article 2B of the State Executive Law.

This document addresses the most commonly asked questions regarding a local state of emergency.  Additional information or clarification may be obtained by contacting your local, County or State Office of Emergency Management.  If you have a specific legal question regarding the use of the provisions found in 2B, it is always best to consult with your attorney.

Notice the mandate of the Office of Emergency Management:

The mission of the New York State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is to protect the lives and property of the citizens of New York State from threats posed by natural or man-made events. To fulfill this mission, OEM coordinates emergency management services with other federal and State agencies to support county and local governments. OEM routinely assists local government, volunteer organizations, and private industry through a variety of emergency management programs. These programs involve hazard identification, loss prevention, planning, training, operational response to emergencies, technical support, and disaster recovery assistance.

During disasters, OEM coordinates the emergency response of all State agencies to ensure that the most appropriate resources are dispatched to impacted areas. Since 1954, New York State has received 81 federal emergency or disaster declarations. OEM coordinated the State response and recovery efforts in all of those events, including the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

OEM’s legal foundations are in the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 and the New York State Defense Emergency Act of 1951. Article 2-B of the New York State Executive Law, enacted in 1978, created the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission and shifted emphasis from civil defense to all-hazards preparedness.

Administrative and program support are provided by OEM to the Disaster Preparedness Commission, which functions as the Governor’s policy management group for the State’s emergency management program.

Todd, are you reading this?  Village Trustees, are you reading this?  Tom Leitz, you too?  And what about Howard Maneely?  I suggest that all three of you administrators—Village Mayor, Town Supervisor, and County Manager—issue a State of Emergency Declaration, since the collapse of this building onto Main Street and into the river (where it will destroy our sewer main) is a village, town, and county crisis-in-the-making.

ToddLePine4

I’ve gone ahead and completed the form for you, Todd.  Download and sign. (Joe, I added you as a witness.)

Todd, you can download a blank form here.  If you prefer to get the form directly from the NYS Office of Emergency Management website, you can download it here.

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SOE p2 fixed

This will trigger the state and federal money—state & federal intervention—this crisis calls for.  This will get “their” attention.

Obviously, local budgets (village, town, county) can’t possibly cope with the bill for the removal of 395 W. Main Street.  We don’t have the cash, the knowledge, or the equipment.  (This is Malone’s “Hurricane Sandy” moment, except we’re lucky:  We can prevent it.)

What we do have is Section 24 of the NYS Executive Law, giving Mayor LePine the authority (and, I would say, the obligation) to declare a State of Emergency which, in turn, triggers all the right responses by all the right state & federal agencies.

Todd, here it is, in black and white:

NYS Executive Law, Article 2B, § 24. Local state of emergency; local emergency orders by chief executive

1. Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of law, general or special, in the event of a disaster, rioting, catastrophe, or similar public emergency within the territorial limits of any county, city, town or village, or in the event of reasonable apprehension of immediate danger thereof, and upon a finding by the chief executive thereof that the public safety is imperiled thereby, such chief executive may proclaim a local state of emergency within any part or all of the territorial limits of such local government . . . . Such proclamation shall remain in effect for a period not to exceed thirty days or until rescinded by the chief executive, whichever occurs first. The chief executive may issue additional proclamations to extend the state of emergency for additional periods not to exceed thirty days.

Following such proclamation and during the continuance of such local state of emergency, the chief executive may promulgate local emergency orders to protect life and property or to bring the emergency situation under control. As illustration, such orders may, within any part or all of the territorial limits of such local government, provide for:

a. the establishment of a curfew and the prohibition and control of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, except essential emergency vehicles and personnel;

b. the designation of specific zones within which the occupancy and use of buildings and the ingress and egress of vehicles and persons may be prohibited or regulated;

c. the regulation and closing of places of amusement and assembly;

d. the suspension or limitation of the sale, dispensing, use or transportation of alcoholic beverages, firearms, explosives, and flammable materials and liquids;

e. the prohibition and control of the presence of persons on public streets and places;

2. A local emergency order shall be effective from the time and in the manner prescribed in the order and shall be published as soon as practicable in a newspaper of general circulation in the area affected by such order and transmitted to the radio and television media for publication and broadcast. Such orders may be amended, modified and rescinded by the chief executive during the pendency or existence of the state of emergency. Such orders shall cease to be in effect five days after promulgation or upon declaration by the chief executive that the state of emergency no longer exists, whichever occurs sooner. The chief executive nevertheless, may extend such orders for additional periods not to exceed five days each during the pendency of the local state of emergency.

3. The proclamation of a local state of emergency and local emergency orders of a chief executive of a city, town or village shall be executed in quadruplicate and shall be filed within seventy-two hours or as soon thereafter as practicable in the office of the clerk of such municipal corporation, the office of the county clerk, the office of the secretary of state and the state office of emergency management within the division of homeland security and emergency services. 

7. Whenever a local state of emergency has been declared pursuant to this section, the chief executive of the county in which the local state of emergency has been declared, or where a county is wholly contained within a city, the chief executive of the city, may request the governor to provide assistance under this chapter, provided that such chief executive determines that the disaster is beyond the capacity of local government to meet adequately and state assistance is necessary to supplement local efforts to save lives and to protect property, public health and safety, or to avert or lessen the threat of a disaster.

UncleSam

But for that to happen, Mayor LePine has to sound the alarm bell—not with a call to Senator Betty Little or Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, or a call to Congressman Owens or to the DEC or federal EPA or Army Corps, but with this simple form I filled out, above.

Once Mayor LePine declares the State of Emergency, Tom Leitz, as County Administrator, must contact the Governor’s office and request “assistance under this chapter, provided that such chief executive determines that the disaster is beyond the capacity of local government to meet adequately and state assistance is necessary to supplement local efforts to save lives and to protect property, public health and safety, or to avert or lessen the threat of a disaster.”

In the event the Village Mayor declines to declare a State of Emergency (in my view, to decline would be a reckless and irresponsible act—a dereliction of sworn duty), the County Administrator has the authority to declare a State of Emergency for this building and its surrounding area (Main Street and the river).  The following passage is taken from this document, written by Staff Attorney Kristine Hoffman, NYS Office of Emergency Management.  (Tom, are you reading this?)

County Admin State of Emergency

civil discourse

Let us, as a community, debate this in our homes and in our hearts, and with our friends, over the weekend.  This Monday evening at 6:30 there is a Village Board meeting.  I suggest a whole lot of us show up—especially those who drive over the bridge, daily, and whose sewage is going to be dumped into the river and, ultimately, Canada—and urge the Mayor to declare a State of Emergency.

(“Honey, if you’re going to Price Chopper, don’t forget we need a dozen eggs.  Oh, I just remembered:  Maybe you should take back streets!”)