The Floods of ’14: Recovery and Resignation

John Christensen
Kevin Duby was one of the Penn Yan residents whose home and workplace were both severely damaged by the floods last year.

People in the village of Penn Yan and the surrounding parts of Yates County who were impacted by the Floods of May 2014 will never forget them. It is simply impossible. No such ravaging natural disaster can be erased from the living memory of the people who went through it. Some say by providence, Yates County was fortunate to have had no loss of life nor serious injuries, but that does not mean there are no lingering wounds nor lasting scars.

Clinton Street, and the Elm and Basin Street area of Penn Yan are still noticeably in need of extensive repairs, as are parts of the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail. Only in the last week has reconstruction of the sidewalk between Elm and the Basin Street parking lot begun. The fate of the rest of that parking lot is still being decided by the Village Trustees with input from the 2020 Vision Committee and the new Master Plan, but largely decided upon available funds.

Basin, Elm and Champlin area

One key part of the plan will both decide and be decided by the disposition of the property where the Owls Nest once stood on the corner of Basin and Seneca Streets. A spectacular loss of the flood, the Owl’s Nest had only just been renovated as a meeting a training center for Birkett Mills. With no flood insurance to cover the loss, both the building and the investment in renovations were a total loss. It also seems unlikely that anything can be built on the site that straddles Jacob’s Brook, the normally quiet stream that transformed into a the building down. With calm equanimity, Birkett Mills President Jeff Gifford did not bemoan the loss, knowing that compared to the size of the company, it could be more easily absorb that the losses of many smaller businesses and homeowners. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, he set his efforts to the itemization of the losses suffered by the whole community, to help secure the federal and state flood relief funds that have helped set the community back on its feet.

Another loss was Marchionda Trucking on Champlin Avenue. Virtually all of Doug Marchionda’s trucks and trailers as well as tools, equipment and garage were lost. “The trucking company is done and over,” says Marchionda, who documented the replacement cost of his loss at $2.2 million. “At least we didn’t owe money on any of it,” he adds, giving paradoxical thanks that he his broke but not bankrupt. Marchionda Excavating is still in operation on Powell Lane in the industrial park on North Avenue, and he is navigating a labyrinth of demands of the village planning board to construct a pole building there. His plans were approved by the county planning board earlier this year, and he’s made seven payments on the emergency loan he secured to build the structure, but he awaits final approval. Marchionda had no flood insurance at the former bus body factory building on Champlin Avenue that cannot be repaired. He only goes there when there is no other place to work on his equipment.

Other businesses in the area have fared better. The Penn Yan Diner was up and running within six weeks, say owners Sean and Carrie Ahern. The Wagner was open in a matter of months. Ron Spoor of Silverbird Woodfired says they are also at 100 percent, but they still have some equipment in the basement to salvage for a new outdoor kitchen. Sean Dallos of Crossfit Penn Yan, whose gym in the basement of the Masonic Building was completely submerged, also says his business is completely at 100 percent, if not better. Jim Long of Longs’ Cards and Books even says, “Sometimes it takes something like this to make you do things you’ve been putting off for too long,” pointing to his basement cleanout, drainage improvement, and other renovations.

Dave Tillman has relocated his business, Tillman Press, from the badly damaged Seneca Street building to his home on Lower Friend Hill Road, and is happy with the reduction in both overhead and his commute. While none of his equipment was damaged, what will become of the building is yet to be decided.

The Once Again Shoppe and Coles Furniture also are completely recovered, as are Finger Lakes Entertainment and Literacy Volunteers, who share the first floor of the Masonic Building with The Living Well.

One of the most remarkable stories of the flood was right there. Less than a two years old, born as a local replacement of the Red Cross which had closed its Penn Yan office, The Living Well not only did phenomenal work organizing cleanup volunteers, equipment, and supplies after the flood, they have expanded their work for the less fortunate upon their return to Elm Street.

Indian Pines

Lonnie Jones of Indian Pines Farm Stand says that after a massive cleanup of his basement bakery, his operation was up and running by July 4th, but only with the help of the emergency business funds made available by the state through the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center.

Keuka Outlet Trail

Peg Thompson, President of the Friends of the Outlet, announced in late April that a $150,000 grant will be used by Yates County Soil & Water Conservation District to help mitigate areas along the Keuka Outlet where bank erosion has damaged or is threatening the trail. There are details to work out, but the small volunteer organization would not be able to make the necessary repairs without the grant.

Arc of Yates

But perhaps the most devastated of all the businesses was another that serves disabled citizens of Yates County. Arc of Yates suffered nearly an identical fate on both days of flooding. Their single story North Avenue building was completely flooded on the first day, and with the second rainfall coming after cleanup had already begun, was completely flooded again. Between all the client facilities and equipment lost in The Print Shop, the loss was well over $1 million. “We don’t know the end price tag yet,” said Executive Director Kate Ring.

The FEMA aid, which covers 75 percent of the cost for repairs, comes once work is completed. Reimbursement will include one final payment with the 25 percent state SEMA funding.

Ring says reconstruction began two weeks ago, but only after the serious issue of site drainage was resolved by installing a large culvert under the adjoining railroad to Jacob’s Brook. Ring says Arc of Yates had to pay for that, since it was not flood damage but flood remediation. Equally, while they have been approved for funds to repair everything that was damaged by the flood – essentially from knee-level down – any other work on the building, even if necessary to do the flood repairs, is Arc’s responsibility.

Ring is especially grateful they were allowed to move Arc’s client services over to space in the administrative offices and Connection Building in the Industrial Park across the street, but the renovation of that space means there is less money available for the repairs to the North Avenue building. She is equally thankful to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital for allowing them to use the John D. Kelly Building for their administrative offices, but looks forward to having the Arc of Yates back in its own building once repairs are complete.

It’s one thing to have your workplace destroyed by muddy flood waters, and another to have your home devastated by the same storm. For Kevin Duby, the floods of May 2014 hit his entire life — home and work.

Duby, who works in the Print Shop at The Arc of Yates, was in his bed the night of May 13, 2014 when he thought he heard knocking at the door of his North Avenue home. Duby, who uses a power wheelchair, checked the video feed from the camera outside his door, and didn’t see anyone.

When the knocking persisted, he checked the video feed again, and tried to get out of bed. But some problems complicated his attempts to help himself, so he called 911. “Is there something going on that I should know about?” he asked the dispatcher.

He heard more commotion outside, and then he could see the rising water. A riding lawn mower from a neighbor’s yard and other debris had bumped into his house. “OK. That was strange,” he thought. After hearing what he described as “a big gasp of air,” water began seeping into the crawl space under his small home, which quickly became flooded. Concerns rushed through his mind as quickly as the water rushed into his home. Would his power chair, which was plugged in to be charged overnight cause a danger, or would it be damaged? If he couldn’t get himself out of bed on his own, what could he do?

He pushed the button on his Link to Life device and waited.

Before long, police and Penn Yan Fire Department volunteers arrived and banged on the door, but because he wasn’t able to get to the door to let them in, they had to break it down.

Within minutes, the rescuers positioned him on a backboard and carried him out of the house. “Thank god for those firemen,” he says.

Without his power chair, Duby depends on others to get him around, and without some of the other assistive devices in his home, he needs more help transferring from bed to a chair, and for personal care.

The rescuers needed to move on to the next call for help, so they took Duby to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital. He wasn’t injured, but he needed a safe place to stay until he could return home.

He accepted a bed in the Homestead, but impatiently counted the days until he could return to his little home down the street. Family, friends and dozens of volunteers gutted Duby’s home, and helped him rebuild his life.

His furniture and belongings were destroyed, so donations from family and friends helped furnish his home again. He’s especially grateful for all the help his brother Keith gave him over the weeks that followed the flood.

He’s been back at work for several months now, and although the print shop he knew for 19 years is long gone, he’s at home sitting at his computer under a sign that says “The Boss” in what is now the Arc’s print shop, located in the former Iron Age building on Powell Lane. Ring says the Print Shop will continue to operate out of that new space. Within weeks of nearly losing his home and his workplace, Duby was back on the job, and back at home, thanks to the efforts of many in the Penn Yan community.

“God, I love those firemen,” he said.

Includes reporting by Gwen Chamberlain