On Tuesday night, May 13, northern Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes was hit with the most severe storms it’s had since Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Reports say that between 4 and 9 inches of rain fell, coming largely in two waves that were just a few hours apart, causing massive flooding. The Town of Jerusalem, especially Penn Yan and Branchport, was hardest hit, and a state of emergency was declared in Yates County.
While a building in Penn Yan collapsed, and numerous houses and businesses were flooded and culverts washed away, no one was injured.
On Friday the 16, more heavy rain fell, adding nearly two more inches to the total.
There are several wineries and breweries in the area, but professionals in those industries say that their businesses were largely unaffected. That’s due largely to improved vineyard practices, as described by a number of local growers. Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport sustained no major damage to their buildings or their vineyard, according to Joyce Hunt, co-founder and owner. “The only damage sustained here was to a bridge across a gully on the farm. The vineyards are fine.” Joyce said that they, like other local farmers, installed field tile to drain excess water and allow the vineyards to absorb more water and minimize erosion.
Amy Hoffman, President and co-founder of Rooster Hill Vineyards, explained that Rooster Hill had “no damage at all other than a little erosion in the parking lot. We planted the vineyards on drainage tile with diversion ditches, and the investment was worth it.”
Just up the road from Rooster Hill at Keuka Spring Vineyards, there was some vineyard erosion and a power outage, but no other reported damage.
“There is some localized erosion, but we’re not seeing posts falling down out of the vineyard rows,” said Hans Walter Peterson, a viticulture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Finger Lakes Grape Program. He explained that crews have been surveying vineyards in the areas closest to Penn Yan and Branchport.
“For a little while, it will be harder to get a tractor in the field,” Peterson said. “That’s to be expected. And the heavy rains might slow down the vines a little bit, because the roots are so soaked. But they’ll be back to their usual selves soon.” Bud break is running behind schedule after a raw winter and slow spring, so the extra water doesn’t help.
Hunt Country is having a special sale to benefit the Yates County chapter of the American Red Cross. Every 12-bottle order placed before midnight Monday May 19 will result in a $13.00 donation to the Red Cross, and will also come with free shipping.
That’s just one component of a growing effort to help Penn Yan and the neighboring communities rebuild. Bat McGrath, a recording artist based in Nashville with ties to Yates County, is planning a benefit concert. Other businesses are donating supplies and volunteer hours. In Penn Yan, simply removing the mud from the interior of buildings will take time. Business owners will have to decide what they can salvage, and what they can not.
Mike Linehan, president of the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, said that the impact will be “millions upon millions of dollars, undoubtedly,” and that the damage to local infrastructure “could take a year to repair. Even with help, this isn’t something you can fix quickly. This will take time.”
Finger Lakes Correspondent Paul Zorovich also contributed to this article.