Last week, officials from the Town of Hempstead and the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery unveiled the results of a study of Ocean-side’s drainage system, the latest step in the town’s continuing effort to update its infrastructure nearly five years after Hurricane Sandy.
The results were announced on July 19, at a somewhat contentious public meeting at the Ocean-side Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Doug Tuman, the Town of Hempstead engineering commissioner, began by introducing the study’s recommendations, including new check valve installations, drainage inlets, water detention systems, pipe capacity upgrades and road raises. Then Tuman opened the floor to questions and comments.
Some residents complained that the study seemed to ignore parts of Oceanside that flood frequently, even during routine storms. Ellen Cutler-Igoe, president of the Alliance of Citizens To Improve Oceanside, or ACTION, which hosted the meeting, said that one such area was the intersection of West Henrietta and Lawrence avenues, near her home.
Tuman responded that the study considered a number of factors, including protecting important storm-response centers like firehouses and schools from flooding, and that drainage improvements in certain areas would potentially reduce flooding across Oceanside.
He also noted that abnormally frequent flooding during storms could stem from blockages in the town’s existing pipes. The study found that much of Oceanside’s drainage infrastructure needs to be cleaned.
Sandie Schoell, vice president of the Oceanside Board of Education, asked why the pipes weren’t cleaned during the study. “Did they just open them up, take a look down there, see they were clogged and put the manhole cover back on?” she asked, adding that the situation reminded her of a commercial that asks, “Why monitor a problem if you don’t fix it?”
The problem, according to Laura Munafo, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery for Long Island, is that Sandy relief money comes from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. “HUD money can’t be spent on maintenance,” Munafo said, explaining that cleaning pipes would be considered a maintenance project.
Residents implored Tuman, as a local rather than state official, to do something about the clogged pipes, but he said that his department was not responsible for drainage maintenance, and that residents should take up the matter with the town’s Highway Department.
The Village of Island Park recently completed a pipe-cleaning project without having to deal with the complication of neighborhoods that fall under the town’s jurisdiction.
The tension rose when the questions turned to the amount of money allocated to Oceanside. Most residents had heard that it would receive $23 million, $13 million earmarked for drainage and $10 million for “special projects” aimed at improving the resiliency of firehouses, schools and the sanitation infrastructure. Those numbers, according to Jeanmarie Buffet, GOSR’s Long Island director, were rounded up. In reality, Oceanside will receive $22.2 million, $13.5 million for drainage and $8.7 million for special projects.
Some residents, hearing numbers that were new to them (and lower than ones they had heard before), said they believed that money they were promised was being rescinded, but Tuman assured them, “There’s no hanky-panky going on. The money is the money.”
Attendees explained their frustrations to the presenters. “This community has been through hell.” Schoell said. “We are still going through hell. We’re extremely cynical, very suspicious. I would say that the best way to handle this is by being transparent. That’s the only thing that will calm the waters.”
Munafo explained that GOSR publishes a quarterly newsletter with updates. Asked why they were so infrquent, she described the process as “glacial” in pace.
“I don’t want to use a pejorative term here,” Tuman said. “But it’s a bureaucratic process.” He emphasized that it was important to do everything by the book. “We’re dealing with a lot of money — a lot of taxpayer money,” he said. “We want to make sure we get it right.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who made a brief appearance, offered his services “where I could be useful in breaking logjams,” he said. “Oceanside is critical, and it’s my job to interface with GOSR and with the county and the town, so please feel free to use my office as a resource, because it’s absolutely critical that we get this done efficiently, and get it done right. We get one shot at getting money like this. We would have to wait for an act of Congress to do this again, and may as well wait for an act of God.”
Now that the study is complete, the Sandy relief effort will enter the design phase. Contractors will submit bids for each project, including cost estimates and work plans. Once the contracts are awarded, construction will begin.
Some residents asked whether there would be sufficient warning before the work began. Ed Scharfberg, of the
Oceanside Fire Department, mentioned that it was nearly unable to pull a ladder truck out of the station on Foxhurst Road earlier this summer because “the road was all ripped up,” and the department had not received warning about the construction.
Schoell said that without proper warning, a poorly coordinated construction project could wreak havoc during drop-off and pickup times at Oceanside schools. “We’re going to need more than half a day to warn parents and re-route buses if necessary,” she said. The presenters said they would do everything in their power to coordinate construction work, but that
it was mostly up to individual contractors to coordinate with local agencies and residents.
Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford said, “The county is going to meet with the town as well as some of the community leaders … to make sure we are in full coordination and open communication to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.”
GOSR released the NY Rising Reconstruction Plan for Oceanside in 2014. There can be no accurate estimates of how long it will take to complete the drainage upgrades until the design phase is farther along, according to the presenters, but the federal money allocated to the various projects expires in 2022.