Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into the East Rockaway drainage improvement project, but not even a dam could hold back the project’s stream of problems.
Nassau County representatives provided updates at the East Rockaway and Bay Park drainage improvement public information session on Jan. 25. Community members had the opportunity to question the representatives and air their grievances about the project. The project was announced in March 2014, following the destruction of Hurricane Sandy.
According to HempsteadNY.Gov, “The Project will help mitigate the effects of tidal and stormwater inundation through road raising, roadway re-grading, the installation of new tidal check valves, new bio-retention basins, and new permeable asphalt roadway pavement.”
This project, although beneficial for East Rockaway and Bay Park, has caused non-stop headaches for neighbors.
East Rockaway Village Trustee Rich Bilello offered context behind the project and why it has been taking so long to complete. Although this project was announced in 2014, work started about two years ago, during the height of the pandemic.
“Because of Covid, the engineers did not have 100 percent of the parts,” he said. “You can have all the pipes and most of the materials, but if you’re missing that one part, you can’t do the work.”
Bilello said supply chain issues contributed to the delays. Nassau County Department of Public Works Commissioner Kenneth Arnold said the contractor had issues as well.
“The contractor was a little challenging,” Arnold said.
“He bid more work than he should have bid, but my team has worked diligently to keep him on task.”
Some East Rockaway community members believed that the contractor wasn’t suited for the job.
Longtime resident Brian Barry said the town of East Rockaway gave him two options after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on his property in 2012.
“We were given the option to either act as our own contractor and hire, at our own choice, a company to restore and elevate the house or we could sign over our home temporarily to the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, also known as GOSR.”
Barry, along with several East Rockaway residents, chose the latter, which made them question their choice.
Barry thought signing away his home temporarily to GOSR was the smarter choice, but he wasn’t ready for all the frustration that was about to come with it. He had no say in the layout of his property by signing over his home to GOSR, but they offered to install a chairlift in front of his home to help with the problems he has with his neck and back. This was in 2019, but fast forward to 2022; his chairlift was destroyed by a flood on Christmas Eve.
Although GOSR installed the chairlift, Barry could not be reimbursed for it. “I got notified in person and in writing that this unit would not be covered because it was outside the perimeter of the property,” Barry said. “The project only covers from the front door to the back door and from the attic to the basement.”
Arnold addressed the repair responsibilities associated with the project. “I talked with the county legislator and any road that this project disturbed will be repaved curb to curb,” Arnold said. He also said irrigation systems that were ruined for bushes and trees will be restored.
Nassau County Department of Public Works project manager Juan Medina let community members know that they can reach out to the contractor and make them aware of specific issues to be repaired.
“Everyone that reached out about damage to their sprinkler heads will have new sprinkler heads replaced,” he said.
Arnold said that the piping work would be done by March 1, weather permitting and damages will be fixed by the beginning of the spring.
“I cannot pull concrete until the weather gets warmer,” Arnold said. “I would expect that to start sometime by March or April.”
Several neighbors expressed their worries regarding the taxes they’ll have to pay for the maintenance of this project. Arnold could not speak on the specifics of the maintenance, but said, “Once the job is done, the town and the village will take responsibility for the maintenance.”
Bilello said that the town has not yet started discussions about the maintenance of the project, but noted the East Rockaway Department of Public Works will be responsible for it. “Like everything, we work with the layers of municipality to do what’s best,” he said. “This is something that we’ll have to work on.”