With seawall comments in, what’s next?


The construction of a seawall on the Lawrence High School campus has grown more complicated as it has become clear that determining the impact of community pushback to the proposal is weeks, if not months, away.

“Next step is all the comments during the comment period need to be answered for,” Donald Caetano, external affairs director for Region 2 of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said. “All the comments need to be adjudicated and worked through. We got more comments than we normally get for a project. We have to do our due diligence going through that with the sub-applicant, the school district.”

The Cedarhurst village board held a public hearing on March 14 to give residents a chance to express their opinions on the proposal for the seawall made the Lawrence school district.

Many attendees voiced concerns about the potential flooding in that part of the village that could occur after the construction because, they said, the high school property would be protected from rising floodwater during a storm, but homes in the immediate area would not.

Some suggested that the high school be relocated, but district Superintendent Ann Pedersen said that was an educationally unsound idea, and that such an undertaking would not benefit students.

The seawall would surround the campus, on Reilly Road in Cedarhurst, which borders Motts Creek, and was flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. FEMA funding would cover a large portion of the $75 million cost, Lawrence Board of Education President Murray Forman said previously.

FEMA extended its public comment period on the project from March 9 to 30.

Cedarhurst Mayor Benjamin Weinstock said that the comments from the hearing, as well as additional comments submitted to the village by email, had been sent to FEMA.

“The seawall hearing came to a head on the 24th” of March, Weinstock said. “We got all the paperwork in from the different people that wanted to comment, (and) we put it all together.”

Forman said he was taken aback by the comments made by both village board members and residents.

“The Village of Cedarhurst has known about this for years,” he said. “I’ve personally spoken with the village mayor about this. We’re quite surprised by the extreme level of rancor and disinformation spread by the trustees of the Village of Cedarhurst.”

Forman said he didn’t know when the district would receive feedback and final approval for the project from FEMA.

Meir Yaffe, a Cedarhurst resident, said the district posted a Frequently Asked Questions sheet on the high school’s website, but he found district officials’ responses to residents’ concerns to be insufficient.

Yaffe, who said his property floods regularly, spoke at the March 14 hearing, and has shared emails with the district, FEMA and the Herald, expressing his disappointment with the plan’s lack of inclusion and consideration of the village. At the hearing, Yaffe said, he was surprised to see how little FEMA officials knew about the reality of the flooding in the area.

“I didn’t see that our homes were properly surveyed,” he said.

He added that, moving forward, he wanted to see the school succeed, but not at his expense.

“I would like to see somebody come in, do a proper study on the impact of what they’re planning to build and how it will impact the neighborhood and area surrounding,” Yaffe said. “I want a third party to show what’s going on.”

Caetano that said it might take weeks, if not months, for FEMA to sort through the public comments and address them with the school district.

Have an opinion on the seawall and flooding in the Five Towns? Send a letter to jbessen@liherald.com.