The Northern Westchester Examiner

Insurance Carrier Accuses Peekskill of Neglecting Dams

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The longtime insurance carrier for the City of Peekskill has alleged officials are putting some residents in grave danger by neglecting structural issues with the Wiccopee Dams in Putnam Valley that the city owns.

Mike Vanderwerker, president of MHB Insurance, which has served Peekskill since Mayor Fran Gibbs was at City Hall, maintained Mayor Mary Foster and the Common Council have been aware since 2009 of deficiencies with the dams but have ignored warnings and violations from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The fact they’re not doing anything about this is egregious,” Vanderwerker remarked. “It’s also a moral hazard at this point. There are thousands of citizens lying in the flood plain and countless properties. If that reservoir bursts there could be massive loss of life.”

Peekskill was issued a violation by the DEC on April 13, 2012 regarding emergency action planning with the dams. Following an April 17, 2013 visual inspection by the DEC, John Stawski, environmental engineer for the Dam Safety Section of the DEC, penned a letter to the city on May 17 stating “of concern is the apparent lack of maintenance regarding unwanted vegetation along the toe of the structures and especially on the closure dike.”

“Note that improper removal of the larger trees and their root systems on the overgrown dike could affect its structural integrity and requires engineering judgment and planning,” Stawski wrote. “Improper cleaning and grading has the potential to cause failure.”

Instead of completing the required engineering inspections, Vanderwerker claimed Foster and the council are trying to replace his firm with a company that is a personal friend of the city’s comptroller and has proposed insurance coverage $280,000 cheaper than MHB Insurance, which has been in business for 100 years and is also the broker for the City of Yonkers and Village of Dobbs Ferry. However, Vanderwerker contended that quote would provide the city with one-third of its current coverage and is based on outdated information.

“They got it in their head that I’m screwing them over based on blatantly false information,” remarked Vanderwerker, who noted he has requested a meeting with council but has been denied. “Dealing with them is impossible. I’m sick and tired of being their whipping boy. It’s not about the money. It’s morally wrong what’s going on over there. This has been going on for too long.”

Foster and Councilman Darren Rigger denied the dams posed any immediate danger to residents and insisted the city has been regularly monitoring the structures.

“He keeps insisting the dam is not insurable. There are no serious issues,” Foster said. “Our city manager, Mr. Ruggiero, has been on the phone with the DEC because Mr. Vanderwerker has been threatening him. Nobody has gone on a vendetta to get rid of him. He has not made the process easy. I put him as a disgruntled professional service provider.”

“I have absolute full confidence in the staff of our award-winning Water Department who are extremely well trained. Therefore, I don’t think there’s any kind of imminent sense of urgency,” Rigger said.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney have been lobbying for funding to stabilize high hazard dams.

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