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The Hidden Price of Climate Change

The Hidden Price of Climate Change February 2, 2024
In NYS, DEC proposes to adopt new technical standards to make infrastructure more climate resilient.
In NYS, DEC proposes to adopt new technical standards to make infrastructure more climate resilient.

Much of the costs of replacing infrastructure never engineered for extreme weather falls upon county and local taxpayers, and not the federal and state governments.

According to Warren County officials, complying with changes in Environmental Conservation Department technical standards regulating the size and location of culverts will be especially expensive and onerous.

The changes, still under review as of February 9, “will have a huge impact,” said Warren County Public Works Superintendent Kevin Hajos. “They will affect every town, city, village and county highway Department – any agency that does any type of culvert or bridge work.”

The new regulations were drafted both to support healthy stream ecosystems and to respond to the intense storms that arrive with increasing frequency, said Hajos.

As Warren County Administrator John Taflan puts it, “We’re seeing more once-in-five hundred years storms than we’ve ever seen before, and all of a sudden.”

Under the new regulations, Warren County must, for example, replace a three-foot culvert that may have been washed out during a storm with a 40-foot bridge, Taflan said.

“A $500,000 or $600,000 project may ultimately cost $3 million,” said Taflan.

According to Kevin Hajos, most culverts in Warren County are four to five decades old.

Not only were they not engineered to manage the torrents of water associated with extreme weather, they are deteriorating and need to be replaced soon, he said.

Towns are also in the process of replacing culverts, said Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover.

According to Kevin Hajos, repairing the damage to roads from the December 18, 2023 rainstorm will cost Warren County approximately $4.5 million.

Taflan said replacing a washed out culvert that has closed County Route 11 in Bolton to outbound traffic for more than six weeks is expected to cost $1.5 million.

Local governments are responsible for maintaining 50% of New York’s bridges and 87% of its roads; without federal and state aid, 100% of the costs of rehabilitating that critical infrastructure would fall upon the shoulders of local property taxpayers.

“We do receive support from the state and federal government for some of these projects,” said John Taflan.

In July, 2023, for instance, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the Town of Lake George was awarded a $1.5 million state grant to replace the English Brook culvert underneath Route 9N.

Taflan said the county will continue to rely upon state matching grants to upgrade infrastructure, but awards of federal funds “will be few and far between.”

“The federal government has provided counties with significant amounts of aid, but it is unlikely to continue to do that in the future. The money is drying up,” said Taflan.

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