While most of the Hurricane Irene coverage focused on damage to homes and businesses, it’s what the storm did to rivers, forests and wetlands that could be the most costly consequence.
During the storm, winds of up to 120 mph ripped through some of the East Coast’s most pristine areas, causing rives to overflow their banks, triggering hundreds of oil, chemical and sewage spills and washing human waste into protected forest and wetland areas.
In order to expedite clean-up of the storm’s damage in these areas, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo advised the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to suspend many of the environmental rules that normally prevent construction and maintenance projects to proceed without a permit. FEMA historically has required entities to obtain a state permit when performing emergency work to ensure that the work is done in an environmentally sound manner.
It is this clean-up free-for-all that has some conservation organizations worried.
“I can understand needing to do triage and put the roads back quickly so we can bring commerce back in,” said Carol Treadwell a researcher with the Ausable River Association. ”But I think we’ve gone a little further than that, and it’s turned into the Wild, Wild West.”
Because Irene was strong enough to send propane tanks, buses, cars and other machinery floating downstream, bulldozers and backhoes have been called into formerly-protected areas to speed clean-up. But environmental advocates like Treadwell say use of this machinery causes irreparable damage to riverbanks, putting crucial trout habitat at risk.
NPR reports that environmental rules in areas affected by Irene and by Tropical Storm Lee won’t go back into effect until the end of this month.
Image Credit: Flickr - US Fish and Wildlife Service NE Region