Sacandaga River Restoration, Cave Banks, Wells

When it comes to getting conservation on the ground, partnerships make it happen. A 400 foot by 70 foot stream bank in 15the Town of Wells was saved because local landowners, the municipality, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District partnered together. The bank had been eroding for decades due to powerful undercutting by the Sacandaga River. In 2011, Hurricane Irene accelerated erosion, causing 2,500 cubic yards of soil loss. Erosion threatened property and valuable aquatic habitat.


“That section of the Sacandaga River known as Cave Banks has been a major source of sedimentation to Lake Algonquin just downstream for more than 50 years,” explained Brian Towers, Town of Wells Supervisor. “However, it was not until the effects of Hurricane Irene that the bank eroded to the point of jeopardizing several homes situated above and along the shoreline. Through the tireless efforts of the homeowners, an assortment of town, county, state and federal agencies were able to come together to design and implement a remediation project that not only protected landowners, but greatly reduced future sedimentation to the river and lake.”


The sandy stream bank is located on an outside bend of the Sacandaga River. When the river was undercutting the toe, or bottom, of the bank, sand collapsed from the top into the stream bed. This sand was washed into Lake Algonquin where it filled in aquatic habitat important to critters like fish and insects. Houses and camps were in jeopardy of falling into the river.
During the early stages of the project in the winter months of 2012, meetings provided a platform for dialogue between agency employees, municipal staff, and landowners. It was during these meetings that the skeletal work for project implementation was fleshed out.


In the spring of 2012, District staff assisted the Hamilton County Highway Department in writing a successful Flood Mitigation Grant through the Department of Environmental Conservation that brought over $300,000 into Hamilton County to aid six projects in the towns of Wells, Lake Pleasant, and Indian Lake. The grant provided funds for this stream bank stabilization project that included construction materials and equipment rentals.


To get the project rolling, permits were obtained from the DEC, the Adirondack Park Agency, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Construction material was collected to build the bench, or a flat section of land located at the bottom of a stream bank that acts as a flood plain to absorb water before it hits the toe. Town of Wells Highway Department staff collected and transported tree root balls to the site. Root balls were placed in the river and rubble was piled on top to act as the foundation for the bench. The bank was then re-graded to decrease the slope, decreasing erosion form the top. District staff hydroseeded the bank with high test mulch specifically formulated for steep grades to stabilize the soil.


“This project was a perfect example of government agencies working collectively to benefit the environment and the larger community,” stated Towers.


Many people partnered together to take this stream bank restoration project from plans on paper through to fruition. The invaluable Carl Schwartz, USFWS’s New York Field Office, engineered and oversaw the project. Without his expertise in natural channel design, this project would not have happened. The time he donated was a huge cost-saver. The Town of Wells provided excellent equipment operators that assisted with building the bench, stabilizing the bank, and hauling construction materials to the site. The District completed the necessary permits and hydroseeded the bank and disturbed areas. Many thanks go out to the local landowners who gave access to the site from their property and allowed for the storage of materials on their land. All of the people involved understand that partnerships result in projects that benefit neighbors and the environment.

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