Turn To Tara investigation: Dam targeted by hackers still has no emergency plan in place
A Rye Brook dam that was once targeted by international hackers is now in the spotlight again in the wake of a Team 12 investigation that exposed a critical oversight.
News 12 previously shined a light on thousands of aging dams, including the computer-controlled Bowman Avenue Dam, which is located less than an hour north of Manhattan.
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"Upon hearing from News 12, Assemblyman Steve Otis and I reached out to both the mayor and the [Department of Environmental Conservation]," says state Sen. Shelley Mayer.
Mayer is one of several lawmakers calling for accountability and change after the Turn To Tara team reported on several safety violations at the dam.
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara sounded the alarm back in 2016 after a group of Iranian cyber criminals - still front and center on the FBI's most wanted list - infiltrated the dam's computer system.
Despite the highly publicized and worrisome cyberattack, News 12's probe revealed a legally required emergency action plan (EAP) for the dam is nowhere to be found.
An EAP spells out how the community would be protected in the event of a crisis, including another cyberattack.
"The issue is these documents are due. They need to be done regardless of who pays for them. The city should pay for them, get them done and submit them," says Mayer.
But the bigger question is why city leaders failed to file an EAP when the state ordered them to more than a year ago.
In a letter sent to Mayor Josh Cohn dated Dec. 18, 2020, and obtained through a Freedom of Information Request, a state engineer lists deficiencies at the dam - including its missing EAP.
The city also failed "to submit an annual certification."
It's an unsettling development for many homeowners who live downstream from the dam.
Mayor Cohn did not want to speak on-camera but sent several emails in response, including an inspection report he ordered after Tropical Storm Ida "overtopped" the dam back in September. Independent engineers pointed out long-term deterioration to the dam's sluice gate, and minor erosion due to Ida, but concluded the public was safe and no emergency repairs were required.
Mayor Cohn also said the dam is part of a state disaster recovery program, known as New York Rising, which he thought was handling the emergency action plan. However, Sen. Mayer says the confusion has been resolved.
"It needs to be done. It will be done. You've brought attention to it," says Mayer.