It is pancake breakfast season in Central New York. My past Saturday breakfast was at the New Berlin American Legion, and it was more than just good food there. Across from me at the table was a man I’ve known for a few years, but with whom I’ve never had the chance for a one-on-one conversation.
Because I enjoy our local history, my usual ‘go-to’ topic is asking for tidbits about the background of people’s hometowns. After a few minutes of hearing about New Berlin’s school on the hill, favorite teachers, and moving back into his family home, there was a motivational moment for me. “While it’s nice to look back and reminisce, we have to form an action plan for this region to move forward. Some out of the box thinking,” he said.
In case you’re wondering, the other half of my conversation was with Peter Lennon. If you don’t know Peter, he is a New Berlin hometown guy who went away to college at Bucknell University. He had a successful career, traveled around the world, and returned to his family home.
You should also know Peter retired as a US Army Major General, a two-star. Some of his duties included being responsible for more than 20,000 soldiers spread over a large portion of the Earth. So, when a man of this stature and experience makes a suggestive statement, wise people should listen.
After breakfast, the slow and snowy ride home had my thoughts wandering. This wasn’t the first time I’d thought about the future of Chenango County, but General Lennon’s statement put my brain in high gear on the subject.
The mission is to keep Chenango County vibrant. That’s a tall order, but it should be on everyone’s mind. My first stop on the internet was the web page for the county planning department. There I found a document titled “Guiding Chenango; A Comprehensive Plan” dated 2016. Being only four years old was a pleasant surprise.
There were plenty of statistics and data in the Guiding Chenango document, but there wasn’t much fortune-telling about Chenango. Future planning for our home is left up to the reader. My biggest takeaway from the county plan was the future county population will likely drop by ten thousand people in the next 20 years.
From reading the county plan, the most significant positive resource Chenango County has is our land, freshwater, forests, and open space. Our largest drawback is flooding, which hits us hard and repeatedly. It was also surprising to learn that in rural, agrarian Chenango County, “residential” is the largest use of land. Next, the number two use of property is “vacant or abandoned” (not really a use). Remarkably, agricultural use of land is in the third place when it comes to the ways people use the land.
Peter’s words “think outside the box” kept rattling around in my head as I stared at all of the maps, tables, and charts in the county plan. The flood plain map kept finding its way to the top of the action list. Two of the largest flood plains in the Route 12 corridor are just south of the City of Norwich, and the other is the west side of the Village of Sherburne.
The Army Corps of Engineers should look at these two areas and consider a dam to mitigate downstream flooding for places like Oxford, Greene, and beyond. A dam and reservoir isn’t pie-in-the-sky dreaming. A dam on the Otselic River created the Whitney Point Reservoir in the last century. That reservoir has an average depth of only 6 feet. But during times of flooding, the dam there can hold back water 20 feet deep spread over 3,000 acres.
A dam and resulting man-made lake in either Sherburne or Norwich or anywhere in the county for that matter would save millions of dollars in downstream damage - forever. There would also be the added recreational uses, both summer, and winter. Dorchester Park, on the east side of the Whitney Point Reservoir, has been a destination for me and thousands of others for various events over the years.
Our neighbors in Delaware County have several man-made reservoirs, which in some cases, entire villages were moved and flooded (Cannonsville, NY). The use of the Delaware reservoirs, however, is for New York City drinking water and comes with burdensome regulations.
A man-made reservoir, of a smaller scale in Chenango, would not be in the NYC Watershed, so powerboats and swimming would be allowed. On the winter ice, snowmobiles and ice fishing would make a reservoir a year-round attraction. The next step would be using the dam as a hydro-electrical power generator. Water always flows, unlike dark solar nights and windless turbine days.
There you have it. My out of the box thinking to help make Chenango County vibrant, stimulated by Peter Lennon and the County Planning Department data. If this dam is to happen in my lifetime, someone in authority, sharing this vision, needs to call the Army Corps of Engineers soon. Lt. General Todd Semonite is the Commander, and his number in Washington, DC, is 202-761-0011.