A new vision for Wantagh and Seaford


Wanted – creative and innovative ideas that will marry economic development with growth and sustainability for Wantagh and Seaford.

“Now is the time for creating a new vision for our communities,” said Jamie Rubin, director of the New York Rising Storm Recovery program.“What kind of legacy do we want to leave behind? How do we respond in the aftermath of disaster? What choices do we make when we build back?”

These were the questions that panelists addressed at a forum on rebuilding and resilience after superstorm Sandy, as part of the 2013 Smart Growth Summit sponsored by Vision Long Island last month. Vision Long Island is an organization that works to promote economically sustainable and environmentally responsible growth on Long Island by actively involving local stakeholders in planning. John O’Connell, executive editor of the Herald newspapers, was the panel moderator.

Mr. Rubin urged attendees to consider that “real money is behind the rebuilding,” he said. In addition to the money allotted to each community through the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program, there is $500 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds available and “private equity that might add up to a billion dollars.”

And while some communities are addressing issues that are hyper-local, such as the building of the access road near Seaford Harbor School, many of the issues are regional.

“Certain themes have emerged,” said Mr. Rubin including “storm water drainage, emergency response, protection of waterfronts and the shoreline, updating the electric grid, green infrastructure solutions and flexible, permeable spaces,” said Mr. Rubin.

According to Paul Beyer, state director of Smart Growth Planning at the New York State Department of State, communities are also looking at housing topology and street scaping. The book “Suburban Nation” by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck, a manifesto that proposes an alternative model for community design has “kicked off the smart growth movement which can help us rebuild after Sandy,” he explained.

For example, ORLI, Operation Resilient Long Island, was formed after Sandy by a group of young architects looking for architectural solutions – designing streetscapes that include landscaping, facade and zoning – for waterfront communities in this new era of more frequent and powerful storms.

“Planning must play a central role,” said Mr. Beyer “and remember to look at the usual in unusual ways.”

For example, even during minor coastal storms, water infiltration and flooding occurs in low lying areas and streetscapes act as catch basins for storm water runoff and bay water collection.

“The ocean does what it wants. You have to respect that kind of power. It moves things like pebbles,” said panelist Rob Weltner, Executive Director of SPLASH [Stop Polluting, Littering and Save Harbors], a nonprofit that cleans up garbage in bays and estuaries. He suggested that planting more sea grasses aids in abating flooding. “We must improve the state of our wetlands.”

And while salt water in itself is not a problem, “it’s corrosive. So you have to think about the power grid. All the wires need to be replaced,” he said.

The power grid is also susceptible to damage by high winds. During Sandy, neighborhood fires erupted as a result of wire masts being broken off homes by these heavy winds.

“That’s why we need to build in redundancy into our plans,” said Mr. Weltner.

David Berg, an associate of Cameron Engineering, said that Long Islanders should consider studying how other nations are preparing for climate change.

“The Dutch have been thinking about this for 800 years. They have used dikes and levees, re-evaluated spatial planning and redesigned urban centers for better water management,” he said.

Mr. Berg suggested that “roads can be raised to act as levees as they have done in Amsterdam.”

Furthermore, in “Scheveningen, a community a lot like Long Beach, they have built up their beaches by adding sand and rock and geo-textiles to add to the width of the seashore,” said Mr. Berg.

In the Netherlands sea barriers have been built across the delta region to help alieviate flooding. The barriers are left open but are closed when waters rise. “We have five ocean outlets here where the surge caused damage,” said Mr. Berg. “Perhaps there is a role for sea barriers for our inlets. We’d have to look at the cost of this verses elevating homes,but it is a consideration. We should look at all ideas, all plans and see how to make this work for us.”

This kind of regional planning will be discussed at a joint committee meeting for the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program on December 10 at 7 p.m. The planning committees representing the communities of Massapequa, Seaford, Wantagh, Bellmore, Merrick, Freeport and Baldwin will meet to discuss regional plans. They will meet at the Merrick Road Park Club, 2550 Clubhouse Road in Merrick. The public may attend and listen but will not have an opportunity to comment. The public will be invited to actively participate at a later date.