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Flooding

Gov. Kathy Hochul updates New Yorkers on Saturday, Sept. 30, the day after declaring a state of emergency for Long Island. Photo courtesy the New York State Executive Chamber

Flash flooding leveled much of the tri-state area last Friday, Sept. 29, prompting a state of emergency declaration for Long Island while unleashing damage and halting some services.

The National Weather Service issued a coastal flood watch for Long Island Friday, which remained in effect into the night. Heavy rainfall and intense flooding throughout the region prompted Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to declare a state of emergency for Long Island, as well as for New York City and portions of the Hudson Valley.

Heavy flooding caused roadway closures at state Route 110 in Huntington between Mill Lane and Prime Avenue near Madison Street at Heckscher State Park, according to a NWS report. In Commack, a stranded motorist on Town Line Road required an emergency service response, the same report indicated.

In an emailed statement, Town of Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth (R) maintained that much of the town’s infrastructure and services remained undisturbed despite the heavy rainfall.

“Highway Superintendent Andre Sorrentino and the Highway Department, along with our Environmental Waste Management Department, were out in full force with pumps and tree crews clearing and cleaning,” Smyth said. “Our sewage treatment plants received more than double their normal water flow without any reported spillage.”

He added that garbage collection continued as scheduled, though the storm had disrupted and canceled numerous local events. “However, normal government operations continued without interruption. Although there were no significant issues, the town is currently assessing all departments to determine any and all issues relating to the storm.”

Joana Flores, media liaison for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, indicated that operations along the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson Branch were largely undeterred.

“Friday’s weather event did not have any impact on MTA infrastructure in the Port Jefferson area or to Port Jefferson train service,” Flores said. “With the exception of one train that was momentarily delayed due to a non-weather-related matter, the Port Jefferson Branch operated on or close to schedule.”

“Crews did perform periodic patrols of the Port Jefferson Branch to monitor conditions of the infrastructure,” she added.

Electrical infrastructure had similarly avoided major damages, according to Jeremy Walsh, a spokesperson for PSEG Long Island. “Friday’s flooding did not impact the electric infrastructure,” he said in an email. “Overall, the system performed well. While we did experience scattered outage activity, it was mainly as a result of the heavy rains and gusty conditions impacting trees and tree limbs, not flood damage.”

Given projections for more frequent and intense storm events over the coming years, Walsh added that the utility company is continuing efforts toward mitigating the associated risks to the electrical grid.

“PSEG Long Island has been storm-hardening the electric grid since 2014, including elevating equipment at some substations to protect against flooding, and this has helped reduce the impact of severe weather events,” he noted. “We continue to storm-harden the infrastructure using the best projections for future flooding and wind conditions that are available to us.”

The storm’s impacts were not limited to public infrastructure, however. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation temporarily closed much of the North Shore to shellfishing due to “extremely heavy rainfall and extraordinary amounts of stormwater runoff and localized street flooding … which may result in conditions causing shellfish to be hazardous for use as food,” a NYSDEC report said.

At a press conference the following day, Sept. 30, Hochul announced that there had been no recorded fatalities due to the flooding, thanking the public for heeding emergency warnings.

“What had been described by myself as a potentially life-threatening event ended up being a time when people listened, they reacted properly, they took precautions and no lives were lost,” the governor said.

Due to its low-lying topography, the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s station is frequently inundated. Former Mayor Mike Lee suggests this location is inadequate for effectively servicing the public.

Downtown Port Jefferson is coping with longstanding flood concerns, which could intensify in coming years.

During an April 5 climate resilience forum at Village Hall, local architect Michael Schwarting reported that the village’s blend of low-lying topography, subsurface water bodies and rising tides will likely produce even greater flooding risks. [See story TBR News Media website, April 13.]

“Those three things interact with one another to cause the problems that we’ve been having in the past, are still having and will have in a worse way, according to predictions,” Schwarting said.

— Photos by Aidan Johnson

Mike Lee, former mayor of the Village of Port Jefferson, chronicles the past, present and future of Port Jeff’s water challenges.

Mike Lee, former mayor of Port Jefferson who served from 2005 to 2007, is now ringing the alarm over the village’s flooding problems. In an exclusive interview, Lee chronicled the area’s historic water challenges.

Drowned Meadow

Before the 19th century, nearly all of the existing downtown was a salt marsh. The tides would flood the marsh twice daily, giving the area its name, Drowned Meadow.

Lee considers the waters running in and around Port Jefferson an inherent feature of the area’s natural character. And while the land was eventually renamed Port Jefferson, its natural essence remains unaltered. 

“It’s easy to change the name, but it’s hard to change the terrain,” Lee noted.

One of the few remaining patches of unfilled marshland in downtown Port Jefferson, above.

Infrastructure

An elaborate underground stormwater drainage network serves the area, Lee explained, describing the covert system built around the 1930s as “one big tunnel” channeling stormwater from all directions toward Port Jefferson Harbor.

The area’s patchwork of hills exacerbates the flooding problems downtown as the stormwater flows downward into the low-lying areas. 

As downtown developed over time, the impermeable surface area multiplied exponentially. For a place originally named for its flooding issues, development slowly removed vital escape routes for floodwaters to discharge naturally.

“There’s too much restriction” now within the drainage system, Lee said. “So much of the area that would have the normal penetration of water has been [converted] to roofs, parking lots, driveways, roads.”

He added, “It doesn’t have the natural absorption.”

One central covert, seen above, channels the bulk of the area’s floodwaters into Old Mill Creek.

During major flood events, the stress on the stormwater network is most pronounced near Port Jeff’s fire station on Maple Avenue, one of the lowest elevations.

“This is what we’ve come to,” Lee said in the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s garage, pointing to an amphibious high-water rescue vehicle the department requires to leave its station. “I call it ‘The Drowned Meadow Express.’”

“If you’re going to serve the public, you have to be able to get through the puddle,” he added.

Coined ‘The Drowned Meadow Express,’ PJFD requires this high-water rescue vehicle to leave the fire station during flood events.

Possible solutions

Lee indicated that while the fire department has coped with the flooding challenges over time, its current headquarters building is becoming increasingly untenable.

During a May 1 public hearing on code possible changes for the Maryhaven Center of Hope property on Myrtle Avenue, multiple residents proposed relocating the fire station to higher ground. 

Lee, an ex-chief of PJFD, concurred with this assessment. “As an emergency service, how can we not be capable of serving the public,” he said.

Lee suggests there are other ways to help resolve the water challenges. He proposed that developers “stop doing what you’re doing,” in terms of increasing impermeable surfaces.

Up the easterly hill at Port Jefferson Country Club, the village recently received a $3.75 million grant from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency in hazard mitigation funds to help stabilize the East Beach bluff. 

Lee suggested policymakers explore similar grant opportunities to address flooding.

“I think if FEMA is going to put money into infrastructure, it should do it where it affects everybody,” the former mayor said.

Despite centuries of water troubles, Lee maintained the village could overcome some of its challenges with proper governmental initiative. 

He encouraged officials to give flooding the appropriate attention, concluding that on the list of local priorities, “It should be right on the top.”

Trustee Lauren Sheprow, left, and Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Village of Port Jefferson is nearing a crossroads.

Residents will enter the polls this Tuesday, June 20, to decide on a successor to Mayor Margot Garant. After 14 years leading the administration, the incumbent is stepping down to head the Democratic ticket for Town of Brookhaven supervisor against Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville).

Garant’s seat is being contested by Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and trustee Lauren Sheprow. In an exclusive office debate spanning nearly two and a half hours, the mayoral candidates pitched their respective visions to the voters.

Introductions

Defeated by just four votes in her first bid for trustee in 2018, Snaden won election to the board the following year and has since secured several liaison posts before taking over as deputy mayor in 2021.

She said she first ran for office “to be the voice” of the people, bringing their wishes to Village Hall and putting their priorities into action. 

“I am ready to run for mayor because I want to use all of that institutional knowledge, all of my experience, to do even more for the community,” she said.

Sheprow entered the board 10 months ago, unseating former trustee Bruce Miller during last year’s village election. She has since helped establish multiple advisory committees while serving as commissioner of communications, among other liaison positions.

She said she is running to take the village government in a new direction.

“I have been hearing a lot from residents and how they would like to see a fresh start for Port Jeff,” she said. “That’s what I was responding to when I decided to run.”

Petitions

This year’s mayoral contest took an unusual plot twist very recently, on May 30, when the Suffolk County Board of Elections opted to remove Sheprow’s name from the June 20 ballot over faults in her petitions.

“I take full responsibility for not putting my cover sheet on the petition submission,” Sheprow said. “But you know what? I don’t care. I’m running a write-in campaign. I would never stop fighting for the people of Port Jefferson.”

Snaden, whose campaign brought about the charges, said using the Freedom of Information Law to assess the opposition’s petitions is standard practice.

“We all have to follow the same rules,” she said. “It’s our job as candidates to know the laws and follow the laws.”

Budget

The candidates offered competing perspectives on the village’s present finances.

Snaden regarded the current fiscal health as “excellent,” noting the relatively low-interest rates the village pays when borrowing money.

She acknowledged “the budget can always use some tweaking,” adding, “there are some needs that I believe need an increase in budget.” 

Chief among them are salaries, Snaden said: “Bringing those numbers up would be imperative for getting the highest quality employees we can.”

Sheprow suggested the village’s Moody’s rating, a measure that calculates an organization’s relative credit risk, “can be improved,” saying her administration would strive for a AAA bond rating [compared to the current Aa3].

The trustee proposed instituting an advisory committee of certified public accountants and other financial professionals to assist the village board in preparing its budget.

“A zero-based budget is so important,” Sheprow said. “Also, having that budget committee [will help] create a budget that is responsible to the taxpayers.”

Revenue

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced new regulations targeting existing power plants, placing a cloud of uncertainty over the Port Jefferson Power Station.

With questions surfacing about the possible decommissioning of the plant, the candidates were asked whether the village should begin preparing for further losses of public revenue.

Sheprow again advocated for expert consultation.

“I think we need to include the Advanced Energy Center at Stony Brook University,” she said. “Maybe we can come up with ideas about how to bring advanced energy initiatives into that location.”

Snaden said continued collaboration with wind power companies, such as Ørsted and Eversource, would remain pivotal in “bringing green energy to Long Island through the Village of Port Jefferson.”

To account for potential losses in public revenue, she also proposed “increasing our tax base through responsible development.”

Staffing

Both candidates agreed the administration is understaffed but departed on possible solutions.

Snaden emphasized hiring a planner for the building and planning department and additional personnel for the code enforcement department.

She indicated the practice of assigning multiple administrative titles to a single staff member is “absolutely not” sustainable.

“I think that’s where the budget needs to be enhanced — to hire the right people to head up these departments and divide up more of the tasks,” she said.

Sheprow maintained the hiring process should follow “a [human resources] system and policy.”

“The idea that I have, should I become mayor, is to bring in someone to take a deep dive into the organizational chart of the village,” she said. “I find there are some conflicts of interest for these positions and roles for people who wear multiple hats.”

Public meetings

To boost attendance at public meetings, Sheprow supported overhauling the village’s municipal website.

“It is not responsive,” she said. “If there’s a village board meeting coming up, it should be on the front page on the carousel of the website.”

She also favored a more dynamic social media presence on behalf of the village, with suggestion boxes and other modes of “active responsiveness” between board members and residents.

“I think we need to set up — here we go again — another committee to hear and review complaints and take [them] forward to the Board of Trustees.”

Snaden discussed the value of live streaming public meetings.

“Bringing the meetings to [residents] in their living rooms, recorded so they could watch at a later date, was key” during the COVID-19 public health emergency, Snaden said, proposing to expand and enhance these methods post pandemic.

She also touched upon the role of the Port eReport in dispersing information to the public.

In welcoming more citizens into the local decision-making process, Sheprow expressed pleasure at the reformation of the Port Jefferson Civic Association, saying, “That means the people care, that the people in the community want to get involved.”

She said the chance for more frequent communications between residents and trustees during board meetings is “a huge opportunity for us.”

Snaden said, “Regular meetings with whoever wants to have a voice,” combined with an active social media presence, would be crucial for welcoming more residents into the process.

“I also believe there’s an aspect of people going to meetings when there’s a negative issue or problem,” she added. “As a person who always looks for the positive in things, I like to believe that a portion of the people not coming to meetings are very happy with what’s going on.”

Open government

Another central administrative function is the swift distribution of time-sensitive documents, such as public minutes and agendas.

Snaden returned to hiring when asked about expediting the release of these materials.

“That rests now on the clerk’s [Barbara Sakovich] responsibility list,” she said. “She’s just overwhelmed with the amount of work,” adding, “I believe we could help by bringing in more people to divide up those duties to get [those documents] out there.”

Sheprow favored implementing a “proactive communications system,” including an internal newsletter, to bring the information to staff and the public more expeditiously.

“We need somebody who’s creating content,” she said. “The content would include a press release after every meeting [saying] here’s what happened.”

Building density

During the May 1 public hearing on possible zoning code changes for the Maryhaven Center of Hope property, several community members voiced concerns about increased villagewide building density.

Sheprow raised objections of her own.

“The proposals and the sketches that have been drawn for this space are looking like we’re bringing city life into a transitional [not entirely commercial nor residential] area of Port Jefferson,” she said. “The surrounding communities are horrified by the prospect of seeing four stories from their backyards.”

Snaden noted, “Density is already here,” referring to some existing apartment and condominium developments neighboring Maryhaven.

In moving through the building and planning stages, she said, it will be necessary to continue consulting traffic and environmental studies, which she indicated are “always done as a matter of course.”

“Residential use has been proven to be the softest use, environmentally speaking,” the deputy mayor added. “My concern is that if we don’t move ahead with … some type of a code change, then as of right, an office park could move in, causing more issues for the neighboring community.”

Parking garage

The village is also working to mediate longstanding parking issues, with both candidates detailing how a proposed parking garage could offset shortages.

“There has to be a careful balance with that — without overbuilding but creating the parking spaces that are needed,” Snaden said of the parking structure.

She also supported continued public-private partnerships for shared parking agreements.

Sheprow called for establishing a parking committee, composed primarily of business owners, to help manage the village’s municipal parking apparatus.

She referred to the proposed garage as “an idea I think residents need to hear and weigh in on.”

Flooding

During a recent climate resilience forum at Village Hall, local architect Michael Schwarting shared alarming projections of more frequent and intense flood events in Lower Port. Each candidate was asked how the village could mitigate these concerns.

“Utilizing an engineer or planner to lead that process,” coupled with a new grant writer to help underwrite new projects, could “move the village forward conceptually,” Sheprow suggested.

Snaden proposed daylighting hidden underground water bodies to offset increases in flood load. “I would like to continue building bioswales,” she added, “making gardens in conjunction with these bioswales.”

Concluding remarks

Sheprow expressed appreciation for the residents throughout the campaign process.

“I’m having a lot of fun talking to people and learning more about everyone in our community,” she said. “There’s a lot of love for this community, and I would just be grateful to represent them and have their trust put in me.”

Snaden reiterated her past experiences in positioning her for the responsibilities of mayor.

By “voting my opponent in as mayor, you lose me entirely — you lose my experience, knowledge and love for this community,” Snaden said. “However, if you vote for me, Lauren stays on as a trustee, and you have us both.”

Voting information

The public will be the ultimate arbiter of these two mayoral candidates on Tuesday, June 20. Voting will take place at Port Jefferson Village Center, where polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

PJCA president Ana Hozyainova, center. Photo by Raymond Janis

The general meeting of the Port Jefferson Civic Association on April 12 was briefly delayed due to a lack of chairs as over three dozen people filled the Meeting Room at the Port Jefferson Free Library.

The body approached an array of local issues, from the East Beach bluff to flooding to green space preservation, among others. With village elections along the horizon and plenty of business on the local agenda, the civic has quickly emerged as a forum for the many interests and stakeholders of the community.

East Beach bluff

Former Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Mike Lee made a presentation on historical and environmental developments at East Beach, which has eroded considerably in recent years, now endangering the Port Jefferson Country Club restaurant and catering facility from falling off the cliff.

During his administration, Lee said an engineer had advised him that a problem with the jetty system at Mount Sinai Harbor was contributing to the erosion, placing village officials in a difficult bind.

“The village was aware of [the jetty problem], but it’s not our property that we can work on,” Lee said. “We don’t have anything to do with the inlet,” which the Town of Brookhaven maintains.

Given how coastal erosion spans across municipal boundaries, Lee suggested bluff stabilization would not yield a long-term resolution. “Stabilizing, it’s going to be a never-ending battle,” the former mayor said.

Ray Calabrese, a former Brookhaven Town councilman and Port Jefferson Planning Board member, conveyed to the body engineering advice he received in the 1970s.

“Leave that bluff alone,” he said. “Nature is doing its thing. It’s replenishing that beach. Frustrate it, and you lose the beach.” He concluded, “Don’t build near bluffs.”

Civic president Ana Hozyainova noted that among other reasons, PJCA was formed to offer residents a louder voice in decision-making over the bluff.

“One of the animating reasons why we got together as a civic association was the bluff and the fact that we didn’t have a vote and a public discussion about what needs to be done with it,” she said.

Flooding

Lee also touched upon ongoing flooding concerns within Port Jefferson, which was originally called Drowned Meadow due to the phenomenon. Though stormwater infrastructure installed decades ago may have been satisfactory for its time, Lee said, the flood load has increased considerably, aggravating these historic challenges.

“We have an inadequate stormwater system,” he said. “When it was built, it was adequate for then, but we have just too much to deal with. It just floods and backs up, and the bad part about it is that it invades the sanitary system.”

PJCA member Michael Mart expressed alarm over the long-term prospects of the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s fire station on Maple Place, which in a recent climate resilience meeting was noted for heightened risk of flooding. [For more on this village meeting, see story, “As Port Jeff braces for heightened flooding,” The Port Times Record, April 13.]

“My question is this: Does the fire department or the village have the right of eminent domain for properties that we desperately need?” Mart said. “If we do have that, aren’t we obligated for the long run to pursue that as far as we can?”

Land use

Much discussion centered on potential code changes to protect trees, preserve open space and limit clearing of woodlands. With a village public hearing scheduled for May 1 on the future development of the Maryhaven property, the body discussed whether new development is environmentally optimal.

Civic vice president Holly Fils-Aime tied the issues of flooding and land development, stating that additional paved surfaces could exacerbate concerns over stormwater runoff.

“Everybody is seeing the flooding — the roads become rivers — and it actually ends up in the harbor,” Fils-Aime said. “None of this is really filtered in any way, and the more development we have obviously adds more stress on all of these systems.”

Citing a 2016 report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office, the vice president added that preserving existing green spaces and creating new ones serves a wide array of fruitful purposes.

The report mentions open spaces can protect water quality, protect biodiversity and promote outdoor recreation, among other public benefits.

“My real worry is that the more development we have, the less our village is going to be viable in terms of drinking water,” Fils-Aime said.

PJCA will meet next on Wednesday, May 10, at 7 p.m. in the Port Jefferson Free Library. Candidates for village offices have been invited to present to the body.

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden, left, Michael Schwarting, partner of Campani and Schwarting Architects, center, and trustee Rebecca Kassay. Photos by Raymond Janis

Between rising sea levels, more frequent and intense storms and a changing climate, the Village of Port Jefferson is also addressing longstanding flooding concerns.

Public officials, architects and residents gathered at Village Hall on Wednesday, April 5, sharing updated findings of the ongoing village Climate Resilience Plan in a community workshop. With water targeting the village from all angles, data is being used to develop new intervention strategies.

“The Village of Port Jefferson, Drowned Meadow if you will [the village’s original name], has had unending issues with flooding as a result of topography, tides, runoff, rains, storms, a shallow water table and many other issues,” said Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden. “I believe tonight’s workshop will be extremely helpful in moving Port Jefferson toward the ability to implement a responsible and solid resiliency plan.”

Trustee Rebecca Kassay, the village’s sustainability commissioner, updated the public on the status of the Project Advisory Committee. Composed of residents, contractors, Conservation Advisory Council members and Amani Hosein, legislative aide to Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), the PAC is pursuing the Climate Resilience Plan for the village with a focus on flooding.

The study is made possible by an $82,500 grant from the New York State Department of State to fund the creation of the Port Jeff plan. Michael Schwarting is a partner of the local Campani and Schwarting Architects, one of the firms hired to carry out various tasks associated with the grant. During the meeting, he updated the public on the study’s findings.

Flooding: an Achilles’ heel

Schwarting analyzed Port Jeff’s long history of flooding using historical aerial photographs and maps. He identified various hidden water bodies, such as Crystal Lake near the fire station and other creeks and streams, flowing beneath the existing built environment in Lower Port.

“The maps tell us a good deal about the conditions, and what we know is that it’s all still there,” he said. “That water is underground, and it doesn’t go away.”

Schwarting said three factors work to exacerbate flooding conditions: rising tides, waters below the surface and low-lying topography. “Those three things interact with one another to cause the problems that we’ve been having in the past, are still having and will have in a worse way, according to predictions,” the architect said.

The village is simultaneously afflicted by water from above, with projections for more frequent and intense precipitation events due to climate change. “The prediction is that the storms are going to increase,” Schwarting said, adding that as global sea levels rise, Port Jeff Harbor is projected to begin spilling over into much of the downtown business district.

Potential solutions 

Despite the challenges ahead, Schwarting maintained that there are some natural remedies to help counteract these threats.

Storm drainage systems and rain gardens, for example, are already in place, collecting and channeling some of the stormwater load into the ground. Bioswales, bioretention planters and permeable pavement systems offer other modes of stormwater discharge and filtration, assigning it a reuse function as well.

The architect also proposed transitioning hardscape surfaces along the harbor, such as the Town of Brookhaven parking lot, as green space, which could add scenic value while acting as a floodwater sponge.

The next stages of the study will involve collecting more resident feedback and defining projects worth public consideration. Schwarting said a similar meeting would take place as those phases progress.

“We will start to move toward solving the problem now that we have spent quite a bit of time understanding the problem,” Schwarting said.

Kassay acknowledged the complexities of the flooding question, referring to these initial findings as “a little overwhelming.” Despite this, she maintained that planning and intervention remain the proper path forward.

“The only thing worse than digging into this problem is to ignore it because it’s happening, whether or not we do something,” she said. “We really need to come together to prioritize, make these decisions and support this work so that it is guided toward the result that you wish to see as a community.”

 

 

To view the full presentation and the Q&A portion of the meeting, see video above. To respond to the Port Jefferson Village Climate Resilience Survey, scan the QR code.

Sketch by Kyle Horne: @kylehorneart kylehorneart.com

The Village of Port Jefferson will host community members for the Climate Resilience Plan workshop on Wednesday, April 5, at Village Hall from 6:30 to 8 p.m. During this meeting, residents will learn about the climate phenomena impacting the area, such as rising tides and intensifying flooding.

In an exclusive interview, trustee Rebecca Kassay, who also serves as the village’s sustainability commissioner, offered a preview of the meeting, detailing challenges associated with worsening flooding, accelerated erosion and the need to plan accordingly.

What are your expectations for the April 5 meeting?

The upcoming meeting is funded by the [New York State] Department of State under a grant that helps Port Jefferson Village plan to be a climate-resilience community. This information is pertinent to every community, but especially in a village like Port Jefferson, where we have such an intimate relationship with the harbor.

In our history, the village was named Drowned Meadow because it was a marshland. No one needs to be told that we’ve been experiencing increasing frequency, and the amount of flooding has increased greatly. We’re looking at this very seriously as a village on how to mitigate the flooding as climate change continues to increase in its impacts.

What is climate-resilience community planning?

A climate-resilience plan is planning to undertake both green and gray infrastructural projects as well as shifting planning and expectations in the community regarding the facts of climate change.

One of these for us is sea-level rise, the water level in the harbor being higher. Another notable one for us is the increased frequency of heavy rainfall, which causes flooding. In a climate-resilience community, we are planning to mitigate the flooding results from the effects of the climate.

Unfortunately — and I always feel like the bearer of bad news — flooding will affect almost every shoreline community on Long Island in an increasingly drastic way. As a community, we need to digest this future, start planning to protect the community assets that are most important to us and make the best planning and fiscal decisions for our future as a village.

Do you foresee coastal erosion mitigation as part of this equation for developing climate-resilience community planning?

Coastal erosion definitely falls under the umbrella of the results of climate change. We’ve been seeing this problem increase, especially in the last 10 to 20 years. Erosion is a natural process. It does happen over time. We’ve just seen a huge increase in the rate of coastal erosion.

Looking at coastal erosion and what our community plans to do regarding coastal erosion is part of climate resilience planning. Sometimes planning means building an infrastructure project, and sometimes it means a strategic retreat from an area that we, as a community, believe floods too frequently or is eroding at such a rate that the assets within that zone are very difficult and costly to protect.

One of the most difficult things about climate planning is that you have to realize that what’s been working for the last 50 to 100 years will not necessarily work in the near future.

What are some distinguishing characteristics between sustainable planning and the kind of planning that has existed up to this point?

The difference actually starts with being able to humble ourselves enough to realize that human-made solutions will not always solve the problem of climate change.

In the past 50-plus years, if there’s an issue with flooding or erosion — all these different problems that now fall into the realm of climate change — we as governments and communities have said, “Let’s build a project to fix it.” But the scale at which we are looking at climate issues is so vast that the thinking has to shift.

We have to realize that the environment is shifting around us, and our built environment is butting up against it in a way that we might have to change what we’re doing. It’s more working with nature as opposed to continually trying to work against it.

What role can residents play in this effort, and how critical is it for residents to educate themselves about the climate issues at stake?

The best way to fight fear is with action. I acknowledge completely that hearing and internalizing climate change data and projections is a very scary process.

I am currently working with [New York] Sea Grant and their local representative, Elizabeth Hornstein. We’ve recently discussed creating a workshop aimed not just at governments and nonprofits but at individual landowners, businesses and residents to empower them on what they can do with their properties to help mitigate climate change issues.

I’m hoping that within the next few months, we might be able to come up with a date for a workshop like this where residents can tune in and see if there are actions they can take to help. The Conservation Advisory Council in Port Jefferson has been working on some strategies [as a village advisory body].

We’ve designed this workshop so that it will be recorded in a high-quality fashion, just like the Board of Trustees meetings, so that residents who cannot or choose not to attend can view the meeting indefinitely on the village’s YouTube page.

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Photo from The Ward Melville Heritage Organization

The Grinch decided to make an early stop in Stony Brook village this year: Cracking the water main and flooding the basement of the Three Village Inn and Mirabelle Restaurant and Tavern, causing Santa’s Brunch to be canceled.

Despite the damage done, the Three Village Inn’s employees and contractors are performing a herculean effort, working around the clock to have the inn and restaurant back up and running for dinner on Thursday, Dec. 23.

The Three Village Inn and Mirabelle Restaurant and Tavern is located at 150 Main Street in Stony Brook village. Reservations can be made by calling 631-751-0555.

Cars try to navigate through flooding on Reynolds Street in Huntington Station. Photo from Town of Huntington

When the remnants of Hurricane Ida made her way last Wednesday to the North Shore of Long Island, residents weren’t prepared for what was coming. 

Two weeks ago, meteorologists got everyone ready for Henri. Gas stations were empty, the supermarket lines went out the door and stores in villages on the water boarded up their windows. 

But nothing happened. It was ultimately a light rain. 

So, when Ida made her way up the coast, we all thought nothing of it. Boy, we were wrong. 

There was flooding all across the North Shore, and people didn’t think to prepare the same way they were going to be for the previous storm.

Port Jefferson village was a muddy mess. Northport was practically under water. Stony Brook University had students sleeping inside the Student Activities Center because dorms became pools. 

According to the United Nations’ latest climate report published recently in The Washington Post, warming from fossil fuels is most likely behind the increase in the number of high intensity hurricanes over the last 40 years. 

Long Island has seen quite a few of those storms, including Sandy, Irene and Isaias. According to the Post, five more tropical systems are currently sweeping over the Atlantic so the hurricane season has only just begun. Will they be just as bad?

What will happen if we keep making poor choices when it comes to the environment? If burning fossil fuels is one of the biggest influencers in climate change, then what can we do to alleviate that stress? We need to collectively do better to eliminate waste and save energy. Consider an eco-friendly vehicle, energy-saving lightbulbs and using more sustainable household products.

But it isn’t just the increases in sustainable living that are important. 

Long Islanders need to ask their elected officials for help. For communities across the North Shore, we need to invest in ways to prevent damage to homes and businesses that sit by the water.

We need to ask PSEG Long Island to consider and create ways to move power lines underground, so when high winds attack we won’t lose power for days.

These are tall orders, but while the rest of us work toward doing better on a smaller level, we hope that Ida showed us all that we need to treat Mother Earth the way she should be treated — if we don’t, the flooding on Main Street will be the new normal.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

The North Shore of Long Island was hit hard when the aftermath of Tropical Depression Ida swept along the East Coast.

While the storm pummeled the Island Wednesday night, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Suffolk County. Severe flooding headed down Main Street, E Broadway and the side streets of Port Jefferson, causing damage to local stores, the Port Jefferson Fire Department and Theatre Three.

Photo from PJFD

On Wednesday night the fire department responded to numerous water rescue emergencies, and multiple victims were rescued from their vehicles by its High Water unit. They were joined by the Terryville Fire Department and Mount Sinai Fire Department.

According to the PJFD, in some cases, civilians were found on the roof of their vehicles, or trapped within a floating vehicle. Additionally, a landslide took place on Dark Hallow Road, which left the road essentially impassable with nearly 4-feet of mud and debris.

As a result of the landslide, eight families were evacuated from their apartment building due to unstable conditions of the land.

While fire department volunteers made their ways out to help others, they, too, were victims of the storm. The firehouse on Maple Avenue suffered extensive flood damage.

“Our firefighters did an excellent job coordinating multiple rescues,” said Chief of Department Todd Stumpf. “We have a lot of cleanup ahead, but we are fully in service and able to respond to all emergencies.”

Photo from PJFD

He added that fortunately no injuries were reported during the storm.

Down the street, Theatre Three said they had more than three-and-a-half feet of water inside as of Wednesday morning.

Executive artistic director Jeffrey Sanzel said that the theatre has had its fair share of floods throughout the years, and even though they were more prepared for Ida than others in the past, it was still a hard hit.

“This will be two or three days of cleaning,” he said, “But we’ll get it done and you won’t know what happened.”

Water record-setting levels heading too close for comfort to the stage downstairs. Sanzel said water knocked over and carried one of the dumpsters outside, as well as damaged dozens of costumes, furniture and a beautiful, donated upright piano that is now ruined.

Other businesses like Ruvo and Lavender Fields had flood damage and are currently in the midst of cleaning up.

“Port Jeff was hit again with a flash flood of over 7’’ of torrential rainfall,” said Mayor Margot Garant. “While it hit hard, we remain resilient and continue our work with the state emergency office and state agencies on our flood remediation efforts.”

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Another birthday has come and gone. It was a memorable day, first, because it began with an overflowing toilet bowl, and it ended with the imminent arrival of Hurricane Henri. The latter caused my children and grandchildren, who were happily visiting, to depart abruptly for their homes before sunset. In between, we enjoyed a terrific party, with lots of laughter, board games and food, lingering over each meal long enough to plan the next one.

We on Long Island were lucky to have escaped the worst of the storm after the dire predictions. Lots of rain fell, some of it torrentially, but the electricity stayed on and the flooding wasn’t too bad. What could have been a disaster for us made me consider more carefully an article I recently read in the Spring/Summer edition of Columbia University’s magazine. 

Titled, “How to Prepare for a ‘Megadisaster,’” by Kevin Krajick and David J. Craig, it is an interview with Columbia’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness Director Jeffrey Schlegelmilch. The center conducts research to help “prevent, prepare for and respond to natural and human-driven disasters on behalf of the United States.” Megadisasters are events that would have “society-altering potential,” like the Black Death in the Middle Ages or the Irish Potato Famine. 

In our century, we are seeing more large-scale disasters, both because of human activity and our vulnerability to them. We are polluting our atmosphere, which is thought to cause more extreme weather, and we are building in flood zones and forested areas susceptible to wildfires. We are also “encroaching into wildlife areas and coming into closer contact with animals harboring exotic pathogens” that then, as we travel, spread across the globe.

Schlegelmilch names five categories of mega risk: climate change, biological perils, infrastructure failures, cyberthreats and nuclear conflict. COVID-19 could have been a megadisaster had we not responded, albeit too slowly, to the extent that we have so far. While we lacked the medical supplies needed to handle a pandemic, we did rapidly develop vaccines, which certainly are helping to control the long-term impact. Climate change, with its prolonged droughts, can cause widespread food and water shortages and their catastrophic consequences. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the nation a C- grade on the most recent Infrastructure Report Card. Our electric grid might be the biggest problem in this category, since it is “aging, overloaded and quite susceptible to breakdown,” or to terrorist attacks. Remember that millions of people lost electricity in Texas last winter due to a couple of severe storms. More than 2,300 of our dams are structurally worrisome, as are 46,000 of our bridges.

The long-term human toll of disasters needs also to be considered and planned for, especially for children. Those whose lives are severely impacted “are much likelier to suffer anxiety and depression, to display behavioral problems and to struggle in school for years.”

So what can we do to ready our nation for disasters?

We need forward-looking strategies from governmental agencies and the many non-profit organizations to deal with these possibilities. We must demand those. Disaster response, like insurance, which we hope never to need, must be in place. Woe to those who try to catch up with a disaster after it happens. Chaos ensues even with planning. It does to a much more horrific extent without some degree of readiness.

According to Schlegelmilch, disaster preparedness really began in the US in the early 2000s, after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. He believes a lot of progress has been made since then. The strength of social bonds among neighbors and within a community makes the biggest difference in how well areas recover after a catastrophe. Also coordinating relief efforts is helped by artificial intelligence, software specifically designed for sifting through a great deal of information, then picking out the critical data for making life and death decisions. Preparedness for biothreats. however, needs attention.

Meanwhile, what can we do to prepare ourselves? 

Whatever the disaster, we will either have to stay at home for long periods or leave immediately, says Schlegelmilch. We should hope neither happens yet prepare for both.