Private property signs border land along state Route 315 in Waterville.
Owner Norm Cowen of 1923 state Route 315 said those signs were ignored when state Department of Transportation crews entered his property in July after flooding from Big Creek damaged trout habitat and regular maintenance was needed.
“They didn’t acknowledge that it was my property,” Cowen said of the state, which he contends never notified him prior to doing work on the creek that runs through his property. “This is our little piece of heaven. Shouldn’t I be (protective of it)?”
State DOT spokesman James Piccola said his department, along with the state Department of Environmental Conservation has been working with Cowen to address the issue.
“We will continue to work with Mr. Cowen in trying to resolve this and come to a compromise and to mitigate his concerns,” he said.
Cowen isn’t the only one who has had issues. Some Mohawk Valley municipalities have faced challenges from the state when attempting to clean up creeks damaged by the recent floods.
Ilion Mayor John Stephens said they’ve been on hold to finish cleanup of Steele Creek.
“We haven’t been able to get access to (two) sections of the creek. The DEC has said we can no longer get in the creek,” he said. “No reason given other than you can’t go in.”
Stephens said the two sections — one between West Main and Second streets, the other between Second and Third streets — still have limbs and sediment blocking the waterway.
“If we were to have another unfortunate situation, the trees would grab on to other debris,” he said.
DEC regional spokesman Stephen Litwhiler said the holdup is due to the DOT doing a hydrological assessment on the creek.
“We’re waiting for the information before making the determination of a permit issuance,” he said. “We don’t want to issue a permit if it’s not going to help at all or potentially make things worse.”
Litwhiler said that these assessments are going on throughout the Mohawk Valley, but they are not as extensive as Steele Creek’s.
Crews are evaluating the whole watershed including determining where the sediment comes from, where it’s deposited and the land use within the watershed.
Mohawk Mayor Jim Baron said despite a “rocky” relationship with the DEC, the village was able to get all seven flood mitigation projects in Fulmer Creek completed.
“We did have to fight to get back in (to the creek),” he said. “To be quite honest, I, the mayor with the board, had no intentions of stopping once we were in there, even if there was a fine associated with it … we would have continued to finish our creek bed projects.”
Page 2 of 2 - DEC officials could not comment Thursday.
In Oneida County, the relationship between the Sauquoit Creek Basin Intermunicipal Commission and the DEC has gone well.
“Along with all the other municipalities, we all worked together and concentrated on getting the work done,” commission Chairman Dave Glenn said. There were “no issues in getting the permitting.”
Crews, however, will be back in the creek next season to complete the work planned.
“There’s a lot of work to be done and time was an issue,” he said. “We’re going to pick right back up again in the spring.”