Home > Mass Transit > A ‘dynamic’ eight-foot wave… Echo Lake Breach/Ramapo River/Metro North

A ‘dynamic’ eight-foot wave… Echo Lake Breach/Ramapo River/Metro North

 This image, found on Facebook, shows a section of the Metro North train track between Tuxedo and Sloatsburg damaged during Tropical Storm Irene.

Tuxedo engineers say breached Echo Lake Dam caused 100 million gallons of water to surge into Ramapo River

TUXEDO — Town of Tuxedo engineers have determined the breach of the privately owned Echo Lake Dam in the Arden section of the town was the major cause of the catastrophic flooding in the Town of Tuxedo, which took place during the historical rainfalls associated with Tropical Storm Irene at the end of August. Tuxedo Supervisor Peter Dolan said, based on engineers’ forensic review and calculations, 100 million gallons of water from Echo Lake gushed into the Ramapo River once the concrete dam broke. The dam, said Dolan, is also known locally as the Arden Dam. Water from the lake, located within the upper hills of the Arden estate owned by the Mortimer family, surged through the dam once it breached and down the Ramapo River, Dolan said. The intensity of the surge, according to Dolan’s account of the engineering presentation at Monday night’s town board meeting, caused a “dynamic” eight foot wave of water to rush down the Ramapo River, destroying almost everything in its path. A “dynamic wave” is a term used by engineers when there is a breach affecting a large body of water which causes a large surge of water, Dolan said. That eight-foot wave of surging lake water, when added to the already rushing Ramapo River coping with estimated 12 inches of rain during the hurricane, was the main cause of the flooding to the 103 homes in East Village section of Tuxedo and twisting railroad tracks and causing major damage to Metro North’s Port Jervis line, particularly in the Tuxedo/Sloatsburg areas. Echo Lake is now empty The distance between the dam and the East Village is five miles, with twisted railroad tracks in the Tuxedo/Sloatsburg areas located about a mile south, the supervisor said. “That tells you the intensity of the wave, which can physically bend railroad tracks,” said Dolan. Dolan said Tuxedo engineers estimated the water loss based on the size of Echo Lake: 25 acres with an average depth of eight feet. Its breaching took place between 9 and 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28, he added. Dolan added he has first-hand knowledge that the lake is essentially empty, with only a stream now running through it and into the Ramapo River. “When you consider the failure of the dam and volume of water those 100 million gallons is, and it gushing through the East Village and on those railroad tracks, the destruction is astronomical,” added Dolan. SOS Fuels co-owner Jeffrey Spiegel said Wednesday afternoon that the force of the wave also shifted a 250,000 home heating oil tank four to six feet on its foundation. “I never thought I’d be using the phrase ‘dynamic wave,’” said Spiegel. “That’s a heavy tank with a lot of oil in it. That’s a lot of water … 100 million gallons of water. That’s a crazy amount of water.” Dolan said Tuxedo engineers also used flood water data analyses from the New York State Thruway Authority, measured flood water levels in select East Village homes, and studied flood water height levels in the center of East Village to ascertain that water level rose three and a half feet above road pavement levels in the center of the village. Below street level, most East Village residents saw water in their basements. Of the 103 homes, according to Dolan, about 60 homeowners saw water levels up to seven and eight feet in their basements; at least 15 homeowners saw in water in the first floor of their homes. Notice to town residents In a letter mailed to the Tuxedo community earlier this week, Dolan addressed the steps the town took and continues to take to assist residents and businesses in flood recovery efforts. “We were as prepared as you can be for the hurricane,” he wrote. “What we could not have anticipated was the devastating impact of the failure of the privately owned Echo Lake Dam in Arden. Over 100 million gallons of water were released into the Ramapo by this failure. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation regulates these dams and impoundments.” Dolan said town officials did visit the site of the breached dam and saw the damage. He also personally met and spoke with Averell Mortimer. Dolan explained he had heard a member of the family was at the property, took a ride there, introduced himself and spoke with him. “He (Mortimer) was nice and cordial but was in shock over this,” said Dolan. “He said it withstood so many hurricanes and weather events. He was very distraught and very concerned about it.” But, he added, he has had no communication with the family since that time. He has no contact information for them and understands there is now difficulty by some in getting in touch with them. Spiegel, the SOS Fuel co-owner, said at the town board meeting on Monday that the dam is supposed to be inspected by the New York State DEC, but his insurance company told him the last dam inspection was in 1986. DEC: It’s a low hazard dam DEC spokesperson Lori Severino confirmed its last inspection date to The Photo News on Wednesday afternoon, noting its records have the dam listed as the Echo Lake/Arden dam. “It’s considered a low hazard dam and we haven’t inspected it since 1986,” said Severino. “We only inspect these types of dams on an ‘as needed’ basis. The focus of our dam safety program is high hazard and intermediate hazard dams and this is not one of those. “ Severino added: “Hurricane Irene was an extraordinary weather event. It wasn’t something we could forecast. At this point, the DEC’s role is limited. It is the owner’s responsibility to maintain.” Dolan added he asked DEC officials to attend Monday’s town board meeting to give a report on the status of clean-up efforts at SOS Fuels and to discuss the dam’s breaching, but officials declined to attend. “They (the DEC) are being as coy as the Mortimer family,” said Dolan. “They told me until they get their final analyses done, they say are not going to make any comment.” Dolan said on Tuesday afternoon that businesses and residents were still in clean-up mode, and the town continues to provide whatever assistance it can. Insurance claims and FEMA applications continue to be filled out. But Dolan declined to comment on any liability the Mortimer family may have regarding the dam’s breaching. “That’s what the lawyers will fight out, maybe there is and maybe there isn’t,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of people trying to chase down that family.” No correlation with drowning And as of Thursday morning, no structural repairs have been made to the dam. “I was informed it looked just like it looked on Tuesday, the week of the flood,” he said this past Wednesday, adding he doesn’t know of any existing photographs showing the damaged dam because the town cannot legally go onto the property without permission. Dolan didn’t believe there was any correlation between the dam’s breaching and the death of a Hewitt, N.J. man that Sunday. His body was found in an area of the town submerged by flood waters after his car was found in standing water. Dolan said the man’s death was a tragic accident resulting from him bypassing five barricades noting roads were closed, and his getting out of his car and walking in flooded areas. A Mortimer family representative could not be located for comment as of Thursday morning. However, Spiegel said SOS Fuel’s attorneys have been in touch with attorneys representing the family and a meeting with both groups has been scheduled. Who owns the property? Town of Tuxedo Supervisor Peter Dolan says the Mortimer family owns the property where the breached Echo Lake Dam stands. County tax records show the Mortimer family owns two parcels of land totaling 354.60 acres in Arden. Kathleen Harriman Mortimer, the younger of the two daughters of W. Averell Harriman and his first wife Kitty Lanier Lawrance, owned 13.60 acres and lived in a small home there until her death this past February, according to a February obituary in The Photo News, though county records show she had used a New York City address for tax purposes. Her surviving sons David, Jay and Averell Mortimer live in New York City, according to her obituary. David and Jay Mortimer jointly own 341 acres and use a Hockessin, Del., address on county tax documents for their property. Her father and their grandfather, for whom the Village of Harriman was named after, was the 48th governor of New York State. He was the former secretary of commerce under President Harry Truman, and served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt as special envoy to Europe and as the U.S. Ambassador to the former Soviet Union and Britain. He also served in various positions in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. When you consider the failure of the dam and volume of water those 100 million gallons is, and it gushing through the East Village and on those railroad tracks, the destruction is astronomical.” Peter Dolan, Town of Tuxedo supervisor.

Courtesy: The Photo News 

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