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Release Date: October 07, 2011

  A nice column about the efforts by Greenburgh/Elmsford public works departments to clear debris from the Saw Mill River. A special thank you to the public works crew members who are working so hard to help reduce flooding from the river. Greenburgh Councilman Kevin Morgan, Elmsford Mayor Robert Williams worked hard coordinating this village/Greenburgh partnership.  Brookfield donated heavy equipment.
 On Wednesday night the Greenburgh Town Board will approve our hazardous mitigation plan which will enable the town to receive federal dollars for additional flood relief efforts. PAUL FEINER
Frank Shartner of the Greenburgh Highway Department clears tree branches from the Saw Mill River in Elmsford on Thursday.
Frank Shartner of the Greenburgh Highway Department clears tree branches from the Saw Mill River in Elmsford on Thursday. / Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News
I don't usually write two columns in a row on the same subject, but we don't usually see government act very quickly, so it seems fitting to document it.
In the month-plus since Tropical Storm Irene and her little brother Lee swamped the region and left everyone with wet shoes, folks have been talking about what could be done to fix the area's flooding problems.
The problems have been around for longer than most can remember, and each storm and flood brings renewed promises that something will be done. To date, things have been studied so much the paperwork alone could dam up a river.
Thursday morning, Elmsford and Greenburgh officials finally did something about it. Work crews from both places joined forces — some in waders — and used earth-moving equipment to pull trees and assorted debris out of a 2-mile stretch of the Saw Mill River south of Route 119. It's not the long-term answer, but it's a start.
As Steve Vicari, a Greenburgh worker, said, we need the river to be dredged and widened, so it can channel the rainwater where it's supposed to go instead of allowing it to spill over into our daily lives.
Other workers said the solution needed is even bigger than that — concrete shore lines that are high enough to keep the water from going where it wants.
Just travel along the bike trail between the Saw Mill and Route 9A and it's easy to see what happens when water seeks its own level.
The entire area has become a wetlands, with standing water in so many places that mosquitoes must think they're in breeding heaven.
The river itself has all but relocated or at least spread, so that the banks are more part of the watershed than anything that sends water downstream.
During the storms, Vicari told me, the water came up over a foot bridge that was at least six feet higher than where it normally is and the erosion of the riverbanks is marked over and over by exposed tree roots.
Vicari said the supervisors lost track as they tried to count the number of locations in a half-mile stretch where trees were laying in and across the river. And we're not talking saplings here. A number of them would easily block a small flotilla.
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It's not just a story for those communities — residents throughout the lower Hudson Valley could point to a river or stream near them and see the same problems.
We all know there's no big money out there for this kind of work — local governments and their taxpayers can only handle so much of this and the state can't even afford the staffing to quickly handle the cleanup permit requests.
Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner asked me if I thought this would help, given the lack of money and a program to clean up the entire length of the Saw Mill River.
As I see it, it's turning a big ship in the right direction. Doesn't really mean much on a grand scale, but it's at least something.
If all the communities along their rivers clean up their segments, it can't help but improve our chances of keeping dry next time.
That's the reason to publicize the effort — government officials get plenty of complaints about what they do or don't do, and justifiably so. Most everyone is more interest in getting credit for something than letting the effort speak for itself.
The work those guys are doing — a lot of it in chest-deep water — may be a tiny part of what needs to be done. It may be what government should be doing.
But in more than two decades of covering government, I haven't seen that many examples of people quietly doing the right thing because they should.
That in itself is worth noting, and saying thank you publicly.

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