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Barge Canal / Mohawk River Flooding at Schenectady Examined:
Appendix B: Early Press Statements Regarding the Vischers Ferry Dam

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This information is from pp. 20-21 of Barge Canal / Mohawk River Flooding at Schenectady Examined: A Report to the People of Schenectady by James E. Duggan (Schenectady, 2007), and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

In addition to the Schenectady Union-Star's report in late-March 1914, which included a paragraph captioned "State Engineers' Promises False" (provided in full on page 6, with captions for two commentaries during the 1916 flood to indicate deepened public concern), explicitly conveyed a challenging public question about the engineering design of the Vischers Ferry Dam.

The full two commentaries from the Schenectady Union-Star follow below (italics added).

"Is The Vischer Ferry Dam A Blunder?"

Schenectady Satisfied That Barge Canal Construction Is Direct Cause of Excessive High Water Here — Laymen Put Pointed Questions to Engineers.

"That the Barge Canal construction work has intensified the flood conditions along the Mohawk cannot be denied. The idea of flood control may be an engineering theory of merit, but in practice, those who have watched the Mohawk for the past four days realize that it is only a myth.

For man to assume that he can control the Mohawk floods is foolish. The largest storage reservoir imaginable in this state would be filled to overflowing in a few hours by such a rush of water as has been passing through this valley since the thaw started.

Men who have followed the barge canal construction work and are interested in the various engineering features are at a loss to explain why the designers of the new waterway provided movable dams west of this city where the flood dangers and possible damage are at the minimum and built a solid masonry dam below the city where the flood dangers and damage are the maximum.

Since the big dam at Vischer ferry was completed, the city of Schenectady has experienced its worst floods. The dam has raised the level of the river here and has slowed the current. Any slight obstruction will cause an ice jam and further raising of the flood level. Such high water was never known before the erection of the Vischer Ferry dam, and that it is the cause cannot be denied to practical observers.

Why the great masonry dam was built at the wide water above Vischer Ferry, at the cost of millions of dollars, instead of a movable dam in the narrows at the foot of the gorge below the Knolls is not understood by laymen.

There is a very strong impression here that there has been a costly and menacing blunder and that the flood dangers here will increase until there are flood gates in the big dam or some means of lowering the level in time of flood.

It is pointed out today that the jam cannot be attributed to the old aqueduct, as the worst trouble was below that structure." (Schenectady Union-Star, 4/3/1916)

The scope of flooding, the disruption experienced across the community and the severity of physical damage seemed easy to trace within the new circumstances resulting from the Barge Canal's new dam as affecting the seasonally large discharges from the river's drainage basin.

"State Engineers Studying Menace of Vischer Dam"

Schenectadians Advised That the State Is Concerned Over Flood Conditions and Seeking Remedy

"While not yet officially admitting that flood conditions have been increased or aggravated by the immovable Vischer Ferry barge canal dam, the office of State Engineer Williams has recently assured the officials of the General Electric Company and the American Locomotive Company, as well as the State Affairs committee of the Board of Trade, that the matter is receiving a thorough investigation. The engineer's office has a staff of men working on data from which deductions will be drawn and, if it is found that the dam is, as contended in Schenectady, actually constitutes a menace to the city, some plan will be evolved to give the water now held a free channel.

F. C. Pratt of the General Electric Company, stated today that in so far as he knew, General Manager Emmons had not renewed his appeals to the state for relief since the recent flood. Mr. Pratt is a member of the Board of Trade committee on State affairs and this committee has taken up the flood conditions with the State engineer's office and received assurance of investigation and action.

J. R. Magarvey, general manager of the American Locomotive Company, stated that the legal department of the company had taken up the matter of flood conditions and had been assured of relief, providing Vischer Ferry dam is the cause of aggravating flood conditions. The State engineer did not, however, concede that the dam has increased high water difficulties in Schenectady. Mr. Magarvey stated that the American Locomotive Company has sustained flood damage but that these, as in the past, went by default as little effort was made to recover for damages done.

It is the belief of the men who are interested in the welfare of the manufacturing plant, that the Vischer dam is an added flood menace and they with merchants of the city and the city engineer's office, are ready to co-operate and bring forcibly to the State engineering department the immediate need of relief before the State is finally confronted with claims which would far exceed the amount necessary to improve conditions." (Schenectady Union-Star, 4/4/1961)

Clearly, the matter of the new "immovable" dam in Niskayuna and its year-round pool, as a contrast with all the other dams and flows upriver, had raised logical suspicions within Schenectady from the first years. The vague public record and the credibility of NYS officials' actual investigative responses in accord with their early assurances remain in question.

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