More than 50 Five Towns residents voiced their frustration with the recurring flooding in Cedarhurst and Lawrence at a sometimes contentious meeting with elected officials and community leaders at the Lawrence Yacht & Country Club on Aug. 28.
After southeastern Texas was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey and unprecedented flooding, Lawrence Mayor Alex Edelman said he thought the gathering to discuss how to alleviate local flooding was needed.
“I think tonight’s meeting is very appropriate, he said. “The entire country is talking about flooding and hurricanes. We’re going to be talking tonight about preventing some of those hurricanes and flooding in our community.” The village-owned country club was severely damaged in Hurricane Sandy nearly five years ago.
“This has been going on for years,” said Mira Konisgsberg, who lives at the intersection of Meadow Lane and Marbridge Road in Lawrence and said she has lost five cars in the past several years. “So far we’ve gotten just lip service … I feel like I’m in a Third World country. How many times have you had to send boats to get people out of their cars in front of my house?”
The fix is on the drawing board, according to State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach. He said that the plan includes installing new check valves to reduce the amount of water that comes from local waterways and floods the streets, as well as new pumps and sewer stations. In addition, the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence will be stocked with new generators and other supplies.
Of the $27 million earmarked for the Five Towns by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery as part of the state’s Community Reconstruction Program, $19 million is dedicated to mitigating flooding, Kaminsky said. “Some of you will be happy with it, some of you will not, and you’ll request they spend the money differently. But there is a lot of money that is going to be spent,” he said.
The GOSR has taken 18 months to create the plan for the Five Towns, Kaminsky said, adding that state officials are scheduled to hold a meeting at the community center on Sept. 27.
He acknowledged that he didn’t know whether $19 million would be enough for the Five Towns, but he said that residents’ anger was unfounded, because the state has yet to share details of the plan.
“This will be an above-board process, and you will not be surprised by how the money is going to be spent, and clearly we have to get it right.” Kaminsky said. “Nineteen million does not just come around — it’s only come around because of a catastrophe, and we need to take full advantage.”
County Legislator Denise Ford, a Republican from Long Beach who represents a portion of the Five Towns, said that solving the problem properly is the goal. “We want to fix the problem, and we don’t want to create another problem,” she said. “We want to make sure when they spend the money, they spend it correctly.”
Also in attendance were County Legislator Howard Kopel, a Republican from Lawrence; Cedarhurst Deputy Mayor Ronald Lanzilotta; Lawrence Trustee Daniel Goldstein; James McHugh, deputy chief of the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department; Cedarhurst Village Administrator Sal Evola; and Deborah Gauthier, an aide to State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller.
Community members also showed their disdain for the state’s nearly $100 million proposed overhaul of a section of Route 878, also known as the Nassau Expressway, between Burnside Avenue and Rockaway Turnpike, which is an evacuation route for Long Beach and Atlantic Beach residents.
The work, which is expected to get under way next summer, includes raising just over a half-mile of road above the 100-year base flood elevation, improving drainage, creating dedicated turn lanes to alleviate heavy traffic and adding a bicycle and pedestrian path.
“And in the meantime, you’re spending $100 million on some vanity project, fixing three blocks of 878 that nobody here cares about,” said Cedarhurst resident Michael Merwitz, one of a few community members who voiced their disdain for the expressway renovation and concern that the $19 million for flood mitigation might not be enough to alleviate the problem.
GOSR officials had not returned calls requesting comment by press time.
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