Almost a year after the flood from Hurricane Irene caused millions of dollars in damages, Schoharie County Supervisors agreed last week to take legal action against the New York Power Authority for its role in the disaster.
The 10 supervisors who attended last Tuesday's special board meeting agreed to begin litigation against the NYPA, said county attorney Michael West.
"We are suing," Mr. West said. "This is litigation."
Supervisors agreed to file a notice of claim against the NYPA earlier this year and had until August 28 to sue the authority, Mr. West said.
It is not known how long it will take to settle the lawsuit or how much the county might get, if anything, he said Friday.
The county cannot profit from the flood and cannot get funds for projects already covered by FEMA but there are "recurring losses" such as lost assessments, Mr. West said.
The law firm of Couch and White, which is also handling the county's role in the relicensing of NYPA, will be representing the county in the lawsuit.
Supervisors also agreed to retain McDonald Engineering to help "figure out what happened" and NYPA's role in the disaster, Mr. West said.
"We're still trying to figure out what happened," he said, "Whether the Power Authority did anything wrong or not."
A study has been launched with the help of information from the U.S. Geological Society into the event, Mr. West said, and the engineering firm, will help determine NYPA's role.
The county may find out that the "Power Authority did everything right," in which case the county could withdraw the lawsuit, he said.
On the other hand, the results could show that the Power Authority could have done things differently or better, Mr. West said.
"I'm sure they learned from this event," he said.
"The thing is," he added, "we don't have all the information yet. We may never have all the information."
It will be up to a jury to determine damages that could be awarded, he said.
Damages could cover lost assessments and projects not covered by FEMA, he said.
The litigation could also affect the relicensing effort by NYPA, which will be finalized by the end of the decade.
Mr. West said he had no estimate on how long it will take to settle the lawsuit.
With the damages in the "hundreds of millions of dollars" it "could take years," he said.
In a public meeting in January, NYPA officials defended the authority's actions during the flood.
They said NYPA's hydroelectric plant lessened and did not worsen the effects of the hurricane.
Officials said that the amount of water coming into NYPA's reservoir was always more than the amount of water being released.
Lynn Hait, the regional manager of NYPA's central region said the NYPA was able to "clip the peak" of the flow and estimated the reduction at about eight percent.
He added that the facility was not designed for flood mitigation.