Roughly 50 residents filled East Rockaway High School’s gymnasium for the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery’s open-house presentation on Dec. 12, at which GOSR representatives shared details of their Living with the Bay initiative.
Living with the Bay falls under GOSR’s Rebuild by Design initiative. Begun in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, its goal is to make South Shore communities along Mill River — which runs from Hempstead Lake south to Hewlett Bay, just south of Bay Park — more resistant to future storms, and to improve the quality of life in those areas. Potential projects for LWTB encompass parts of Bay Park, East Rockaway, Hempstead, Lynbrook, Malverne, Oceanside and Rockville Centre. The state is investing $125 million in the project.
“I think it’s great that we’re able to take advantage of this money and use it in a positive way,” said Brian Schwagerl, a member of LWTB’s Citizens Advisory Committee. “The fact that the community is going to benefit with tremendous improvements to Hempstead Lake State Park is great.”
The project seeks to restore the 521-acre park’s northeast and northwest ponds and to create new areas for treating storm-water runoff and collecting pollutants. Other renovations include improvements to Hempstead Lake’s dam and the construction of an 8,000-square-foot Environmental Education and Resiliency Center that would monitor the lake’s water levels and serve as a community educational and emergency-response facility. The project also includes the rehabilitation of Smith Pond, a 22-acre freshwater pond in Rockville Centre, where project planners hope to remove invasive species through dredging and build a floodwall.
“I don’t think the residents realize that it’s going to be more than a living, breathing laboratory of what, environmentally, is happening in our neighborhood,” Schwagerl said of the proposed work on Smith Pond. “It will also be a fun, recreational place that has the potential to bring more people to the pond.”
Enrico Nardone, executive director of the Seatuck Environmental Association, explained that the renovations to Smith Pond would also include a fish ladder, a series of pools built like steps to enable fish to bypass a dam or waterfall. He said that red herring are common in the pond, but unlike salmon, they typically cannot jump high enough to get over dams. As a result, the red herring population has dwindled in recent years. Nardone said he was hopeful that the renovations would restore that population.
“That process of transferring energy out of the ocean into the estuary and into the streams is an important part of driving the whole coastal ecosystem,” Nardone said. “That transfer of energy is a very important part of the food chain, so building a fish ladder where they’re able to swim upstream would help with that.”
The project’s $125 million investment has helped fund social resiliency programs in South Shore communities. Hofstra University began a summer science research program for high schools in Malverne, West Hempstead, East Rockaway, Lynbrook, Oceanside and Rockville Centre. Through the program, students had a chance to develop research projects related to Mill River.
“Professors — even the best researchers — live for their students to inspire and educate them,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra, which oversees sustainability research. “This is a chance to have top-flight university professors interact with kids to [give] them a chance to spark a dream of maybe becoming a bio major.”
David Stern, one of the co-chairs of the Citizens Advisory Committee, said that while the project holds a lot of potential, he hopes that GOSR will look into some of the residents’ concerns about Hempstead Lake State Park. At an environmental review hearing in October, some residents said they worried about the project’s proposal to remove 2,500 trees, which would widen the park’s trails.
“You have to look at this project holistically,” Stern said. “There are practical opportunities . . . you can’t take little pieces and say there’s no impact. You’ve got to take a look at the cumulative impact. There’s a lot of money invested in this, so the potential is definitely there.”
Schwagerl said that like any government-funded project, it will take time for a final proposal for this project to be approved.
“The plans have changed along the way as community input has come in,” Schwagerl said. “That’s why we do these community meetings . . . to gather more input from residents. I think that at the end of the day, a lot of people are going to benefit from this.”