August 27, 2016
Plans submitted to repair St. Mary’s flooding damage
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Running water caused the bank of a gully to collapse in June 2015 along the northern edge of St. Mary’s Cemetery. Runoff from storms filled the northern side of the cemetery with rocks and debris.
A landowner has submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to restore damage at St. Mary’s Cemetery, caused by flooding caused by work done on his property in 2012.
Amidst the grave stones and mausoleums of St. Mary’s Cemetery, a trench caused by storm water runoff has been carved into the northern edge of the property. Two grave stones sit alone along the edge of the trench while one marker has been removed. This was the scene Wednesday morning during a visit to the cemetery.
The problems linger from work done by Cortlandville landowner James C. Stevens III in 2012 when he installed a drainage basin on his Ridgeview Avenue property, which redirected water to the nearby cemetery on Route 281 in Cortland.
Stevens said at the time that the work he undertook on his property was part of a larger effort to mitigate flooding elsewhere, specifically along Route 281, Wheeler Avenue and West Main Street. According to Stevens at the time, then-mayor Tom Gallagher had asked him to help remedy the situation. Stevens said he also involved the diocese and that the work he undertook was done in good faith to prevent future flooding.
In 2013, due to the work the cemetery was overwhelmed with storm water, causing toppled tombstones and unearthed graves. It also carved a deep gash along the north side of the property while flooding portions of the adjacent highway.
In a report at the time from the Catholic Cemeteries of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, the owner of St. Mary’s Cemetery, reported that several families were forced to exhume and rebury 18 bodies.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation determined in 2014 that not only was the drainage basin responsible for the damage, but that Stevens had not acquired the necessary permits to do the work.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office charged Stevens with two counts of criminal contempt for failing to reverse the work on his property in May.
Due to the charges, Stevens was required to submit plans to restore the property to the state Department of Environmental Conservation by June 1.
As ordered by state Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey’s signing of a criminal contempt decision on April 25, Stevens did file preliminary designs for restoration by June 1, said Kevin Frazier, DEC public information officer, in an email Thursday.
In the order signed by Rumsey, Stevens was also required to submit further engineering reports to the DEC on Aug. 1., Frazier said. The plans have been referred to as a drainage report, he said.
The preliminary designs have been reviewed by the DEC and technical comments have been conveyed to Stevens, Frazier said.
The DEC has not yet completed the review of the engineering reports, Frazier said.
Once the engineering plan is approved, DEC will monitor Stevens implementation of the project, Frazier said.
Details of the remediation plan from the DEC were unavailable.
Stevens could not bereached for comment by Friday afternoon.
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