REPAIRS ON RIVERS SPAWN CRITICISM

JOSEPH BERGER New York Times
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Tuesday, October 8, 1996

ROSCOE -- The flood that swamped the western Catskills last January seemed insatiable, plucking trees out by their roots, plunging bridges into streams, wrecking homes and stores and leaving eight people dead. No one in this countryside famed for its 2-foot wild trout could remember anything like it, and federal officials declared the flood the state's worst calamity in 24 years.


Here and in the other mountain villages in Delaware and Sullivan Counties just beyond the Borscht Belt, people set to repair work with $8.3 million in federal and state emergency money.


Throughout the winter and into summer, they employed bulldozers and tractor-driven shovels that reopened clogged roads and culverts under bridges and cleared the muck out of vital streams where brook, brown and rainbow trout spawn.


Now some people are saying that the flood relief was almost as harmful as the flood, that sloppy or excessive work had damaged two dozen glistening brooks and winding rivers, like the Beaverkill, that form the heart of this region's economy as the trout fishing capital of the East Coast.


With the spawning season just beginning, there is no evidence yet of a falloff in trout. But conservation groups like Trout Unlimited, a national organization of 95,000 members that strives to protect fish habitats, say that gravel and silt disturbed by excessive repair work ended up blocking tributaries that trout must enter to spawn.


The work, these critics say, has also muddied or warmed cool-water pools in which the trout gather to rest or escape predators.


``The heavy equipment work represents a disaster for trout and the insects they feed on, one that will take years of careful work and lots of taxpayers' money to restore,'' said Jock Conyngham, a field biologist for Trout Unlimited. ``Much of the critical habitat is now compromised.''


Conyngham said much of the repair work was done carelessly and to excess as contractors tried to capitalize on the windfall of federal aid.


Enforcement of environmental regulations, he said, was lax. Though 1,000 permits were issued for stream repairs in Delaware County, the hardest hit of 41 counties affected by flooding, not a single summons for improper work was issued.


Environmental officials and local public works administrators conceded that some work had created as many problems as it cured, but they said those trouble spots were being repaired.


Overall, the officials said, government workers and private contractors did the best they could, given the public outcry and pressure to free marooned families who needed to buy food and get to work.


``It was a natural disaster that tested all our resources,'' said Anthony Adamczyk, director of Region 4 of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. ``In all honesty, it was not a time to get into a strong enforcement mode given the emotion that was there.''


Strict supervision by an understaffed agency, he added, was not possible given the disaster's magnitude.