Featured Story
10/27/17 5:55am
10/27/2017 5:55 AM

Cecily Jaffe was living in a cottage on Harbor Road in Aquebogue, a mere 200 feet from Peconic Bay, when Superstorm Sandy hit on Oct. 29, 2012 — and struck hard.

She had renovated the old home gradually over several years since moving there in 1999, fixing up a bathroom, taking out a wall and redesigning her kitchen.


Featured Story
01/15/17 6:00am
01/15/2017 6:00 AM

Pine Avenue

After Superstorm Sandy flooded and destroyed numerous houses in the Bay View Pines and Waters Edge communities in Flanders, the state launched a program to purchase those properties with the goal of leaving them undeveloped and uninhabited, hoping to ensure area homeowners would never again be affected by a similar disaster.


10/29/13 7:00am
10/29/2013 7:00 AM


One year ago, Superstorm Sandy touched down in Riverhead, bringing with her a wrath – or more precisely, a combination of tidal surge, winds and rain – unseen by most in the area.

A full year later, the Town of Riverhead is still owed $750,000 in federal funding to help reimburse the cost borne by the storm.

This timeline takes a look back at some parts of the chaotic week that hit the area.

Paul Squire contributed to this project.

10/29/13 7:00am
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | The gazebo by the Peconic River flipped over in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | The gazebo by the Peconic River flipped over in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Nearly a year after superstorm Sandy swept across the North Fork, knocking down trees, taking out power lines and flooding downtown Riverhead under several feet of storm surge, Riverhead Town is still waiting on about $750,000 in federal reimbursement funds it requested to cover related repair costs.

“We have received money, but not the lion’s share,” said Police Chief David Hegermiller, the town’s liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Chief Hegermiller said the town applied for more than $1 million in funding from FEMA to pay for repairs and minor improvements to mitigate future storm damage. But as of last week, the town has received only about 25 percent of those reimbursement funds.

Related: Timeline breaks down Sandy’s arrival to the Riverhead area

Until a couple of months ago, he said, the town hadn’t received any funding from FEMA.

Chief Hegermiller believes the sheer amount of damage caused by Sandy across the U.S. is partially to blame for the delay in getting FEMA funding approval.

“This was just a major storm,” he said. “The paperwork is just drowning them.”

The complexity of the FEMA funding approval process may also be contributing to the delay. Municipalities that apply for FEMA relief don’t receive the funds directly from FEMA, but through the New York State Office of Emergency Management — to which FEMA gives the money. Applicants have to file project worksheets — detailed folders describing the exact cost and reason for the request — with state officials, who review the project worksheets themselves before sending them on to FEMA for a second review.

Click here to read our past Superstorm Sandy coverage.

Often, the state will return a worksheet asking for clarifications.

“I don’t want to tell you how many times I went down to Iron Pier to look at the concrete that was out of kilter,” Chief Hegermiller said. “All that stuff takes time.”

The town has completed most of the 20 project worksheets it plans to fi le with FEMA. Consultants from the state are now working in the police department basement to review the final worksheets for approval, town offi cials said.    “We’re not the only ones in this position,” said town fi nancial administrator Bill Rothaar.

Most of the money used during Sandy cleanup came from budget lines set up for employee overtime and contingencies, meaning no money was taken from the general fund in 2012, he said.

But “a couple” of Sandy-related problems that cropped up this year had to be paid for using general funds because FEMA approval was taking too long, Mr. Rothaar said.

“We weren’t getting approvals and the board was making decisions that this needed to be done,” he said.

The delays, in turn, have also slowed down other town functions and departments. The town’s audit, for example, could have been fi nished about a month earlier had the FEMA funding been in the town’s coffers.

The town has also applied for several state hazard mitigation project grants to help bolster the its defenses against future disasters, Chief Hegermiller said.

One of those applications would secure $6.5 million to prevent storm-water from getting into the town’s sewer system, while another roughly $8.5 million proposal would move the sewer district’s Defriest pump station downtown to elevate it out of the fl ood plain, he said.

Another proposal asks for $350,000 to pay for a new generator. But Chief Hegermiller thinks the grants will become “very competitive.” Only $200 million has been made available for the mitigation grants across the entire state.

“This isn’t a slam dunk,” he said. “There’s a lot of hurdles to go through.”

Meanwhile, town officials say that a plan to install a series of plastic walls to prevent storm surges from flooding downtown is still in the planning phases.

A Utah-based company presented the “Muscle Wall” to Town Board members in April. The 6-by-4-foot sections of plastic wall would be placed together to keep floodwaters from reaching downtown’s businesses, as occurred during Sandy.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the town will seek federal and county grant money to pay for the walls.

“We don’t have any money to buy it right now but I was hoping to use the hazard mitigation money FEMA and the county were putting on the table,” Ms. Giglio said.

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09/21/13 7:58am
09/21/2013 7:58 AM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Pieceful Quilting owner Angie Veeck behind the counter of her new shop at Calverton Commons.

Just days after flooding from superstorm Sandy left her downtown Riverhead shop in ruins, Pieceful Quilting owner Angela Veeck had made up her mind.

She would head north, away from the Peconic River.

Specifically, Ms. Veeck looked to move her store to a then-empty 2,400-square-foot space in Calverton Commons on Sound Avenue.

“I am a very happy camper because every cloud has a silver lining,” Ms. Veeck said last week, when asked to describe her rebuilt life and livelihood a year after Sandy. “My new store is much nicer and, most important, it is dry.”

Special Report: Remembering the L.I. Express hurricane of 1938

That’s a significant change from last November, when Ms. Veeck’s ordeal was featured on the front page of the Riverhead News-Review.

It was about 11 months ago that Pieceful Quilting, which had been located at the southern corner of downtown Riverhead’s McDermott Avenue for 30 years, was effectively destroyed when floodwaters from Sandy reached heights of two feet and hung around the shop for 36 hours, causing black mold to grow throughout the rented space. A few employees salvaged what they could from the store.

Pieceful Quilting wasn’t the only downtown shop affected by the storm. Ray Pickersgill, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District said his East Main Street store, Robert James Salon, was closed for a month after Sandy. And the Serpentine Museum, which was slated to debut this year at the site of the former Dinosaur Walk Museum, still hasn’t opened thanks to storm damage.

The museunm’s owners “had to put on a new roof,” Mr. Pickersgill said.

Ms. Veeck said last year that her flood and business insurance would not cover her damage-related expenses. Last week, she said her insurance company eventually did compensate her for about 60 percent of losses, but only for the store’s contents.

“Insurance companies are not in the business of giving out money,” she said. “They’re in the business of collecting money.”

Ms. Veeck said she was able to use some of the insurance money to purchase inventory for her new shop, which sells quilting supplies and material, but said her insurer didn’t cover the cost of moving Pieceful Quilting to Calverton.

“It was a very big expense to move into a new space and have to totally put together a new store,” she said.

“We were sad that [Pieceful Quilting] had to leave,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “Unfortunately, she didn’t have an alternative at the time, but I hope she’s doing well in her location. She contributed a lot to Main Street. Her store was very popular.”

It took Ms. Veeck just six weeks to get fully moved into the new storefront, which is located in the same plaza as Mema’s Pizza, just west of Bean & Bagel Cafe — a feat she attributes to her husband, Ken — “He’s a keeper,” she said — and her employees.

“I couldn’t have done it without my staff,” she said.

Ms. Veeck’s neighbor, Stella Johnson, also helped move contents salvaged from the Riverhead store to a trailer last November so they could be moved to the new shop.

And although it’s smaller than her old Riverhead shop, Ms. Veeck said her new Calverton location features a bright, open layout that gives the illusion of size. Business is good, she said, but she won’t know the full extent of Pieceful Quilting’s losses until sometime in November, when she can better tally year-to-year numbers.

“It will be two months before I know exactly what the implications were in terms of losses and customers,” she said. “It’s too early to tell, but I would say that we’re doing okay.”

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07/28/13 7:00am
07/28/2013 7:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | This oddly shaped, rusted object found in shallow water proved to be an unexploded aerial bomb.

Gardiners Point Island looked different to coastal biologist Curt Kessler as he walked around the remains of Fort Tyler, a relic of the Spanish-American War.

As Mr. Kessler, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, walked the small island with coworkers on July 5, counting bird nests and searching for signs of bird activity, he noticed that large concrete blocks had been moved across the island as if dragged by a giant. The sands had shifted in places.

“Sandy had really washed over the island and changed it a lot,” he said of the late October storm.

As Mr. Kessler walked along the waterline, he began to notice small metal fragments washed up along the shore.

Then he saw a strange shape just below the surface — an oblong piece of rusted metal about a foot long, nestled among a group of smoothed rocks.

He stopped. This was different from the other metal scraps he’d seen.

Mr. Kessler had served in the U.S. Navy for four years and spent time recently on the island of Saipan — a World War II battle site littered with munitions — while working with endangered species. He instantly recognized what he was looking at.

“The fins kind of gave it away,” Mr. Kessler said.

Mr. Kessler was standing only a few feet away from an unexploded bomb.

CURT KESSLER COURTESY PHOTO | U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists conducting a bird nest count on what is now accurately called ‘The Ruins.’

Better known as “The Ruins,” the rocky 500-foot-long Gardiners Point Island has a surprising history for such a tiny spot.

It was once the far end of a thin spit of sand attached to Gardiners Island. A lighthouse stood there in the mid-1800s, but by the 1890s, the island’s instability caused the government to consider relocating the lighthouse.

It never got the chance. In 1894, a storm damaged the lighthouse, which was left to fall into the sea.

By that time, storms had cut the peninsula off from Gardiners Island, turning it into Gardiners Point Island.

The island was transferred to the War Department, the precursor of the Department of Defense, four years later. Fort Tyler — named after President John Tyler — was built there to protect New York waterways during the Spanish-American War. Fort Terry on Plum Island was built for the same purpose.

Guns were installed in concrete parapets at Fort Tyler, but it saw no action and was closed in the 1920s, making it a prime target practice site for the U.S. military.

“After the Spanish-American War, they threw all kinds of stuff at it,” said Ned Smith, a librarian with the Suffolk County Historical Society.

In the summer of 1936, the U.S. Army used the abandoned fort as target practice for bombers from the Ninth Bombardment Group out of Mitchel Field in Mattituck, according to a report in The Watchman newspaper that year.

The military used 100-pound bombs that were mostly filled with sand and water, with a pound of black powder to “create a visible puff of smoke for observers,” the article states.

Though military officials assured that the bombs were safe, then-Southold Supervisor S. Wentworth Horton and East Hampton Town Supervisor Perry Duryea protested the training. Bluefish fishermen also complained about the military training, since Gardiners Point Island had become a prime fishing spot.

About a week after the training began, a well-known restaurateur from Brooklyn “narrowly escaped death” when U.S. Army planes dropped a shower of bombs over Gardiners Bay, where he was sailing with six friends, according to a Watchman article from August 1936.

Some of the bombs landed within 50 feet of his boat, according to the article.

Two years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the island a national bird refuge, but about a decade later the old fort — having now adopted the nickname “The Ruins” — was once again put in the crosshairs.

This time, the U.S. Navy targeted the island, dropping smaller bombs that weighed two pounds and four ounces from naval aircraft, according to a 1949 article in the County Review newspaper. At the time, the Long Island Fishermen’s Association reported one fisherman had 100 lobster pots annihilated by the bombing.

Once again, the East End town supervisors slammed the bombing training. In October 1949, Southold Town Supervisor Norman Klipp sponsored a resolution that said the target practice would be a “potential danger to life, limb and property” and would ruin the fishing stock.

The Navy ignored the complaints and went ahead with the bombing, sending a note to the Board of Supervisors a month later stating that the bombings posed no danger to boaters or fishermen.

The island, and what remains of Fort Tyler, were eventually handed over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as excess federal property.

The site has been used as a bird sanctuary for nesting common and roseate terns, small seabirds that feed on local fish. But while the ruins may be an ideal home for birds, it’s no place for humans.

There’s a danger that unexploded munitions could still be hidden under the sand, authorities say.

COURTESY PHOTO | Fort Tyler, in an undated photo, before it was used by the military for bombing target practice.

Mr. Kessler had just completed unexploded ordnance training, so he knew what to do the moment he saw the rusty bomb: recognize, retreat, report, record.

“Basically, don’t touch them,” he said. “You’re never sure. Even if it looks like a dummy round it could [explode].”

Mr. Kessler took a photo of the munitions lurking under the water and ran back to warn his friends and report the ordnance to his superiors.

Despite the bomb nearby, Mr. Kessler said he and the three other biologists on the island never panicked. The chance that a bomb could wash ashore had always been present, he said.

“Nobody was that surprised,” Mr. Kessler said.

But the Suffolk County Emergency Services Unit was.

“Once in a while we’ll find things outside, but this was unique,” said Lt. Kevin Burke, commanding officer of the emergency services unit.

He said the recently discovered ordnance wasn’t “easily found. If you weren’t looking for it, you might not have seen it.”

The county police bomb squad was called to the scene about 12:50 p.m., authorities said.

Southold and Riverhead Town police had helped set up a 300- to 400-foot perimeter around the area. Members of the bomb squad were ferried to the island by the East Hampton Marine Patrol, jumping off the boat into knee-deep water to prevent the vessel from running aground, Lt. Burke said.

The East End Marine Task Force’s Vessel 41 — the unit’s newest ship, designed to respond to nuclear, chemical or biological attacks or accidents — was also activated for the operation, authorities said.

Lt. Burke said the bomb squad sometimes returns unexploded ordnance to the military if the bombs are stable and in good condition. The weapons found on Gardiners Point Island — two eight-inch aerial bombs — were anything but.

“A lot of times when they’re exposed to the elements the explosive powder will leach out,” Lt. Burke said. The bomb squad would be taking no chances.

They hooked up the top two bombs and detonated, but the bombs didn’t blow up, Lt. Burke said. Those bombs had lost their explosive charges and were detonated harmlessly.

But when emergency personnel returned to the scene they found a third aerial bomb hidden beneath the first two. Once again, the bomb squad detonated a charge.

But this time, the bomb exploded, blowing a crater in the shoreline.

“That would have done serious damage,” Lt. Burke said. “If someone had been there they would have been killed.”

No one was hurt in the operation.

For years, the U.S. Coast Guard has enforced a 500-yard hazardous zone around the island where boaters cannot sail or dock. Authorities said this month’s discovery of an unexploded bomb was proof of why boaters should stay far away.

Michelle Potter, a refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the government knew there was “the possibility” of potentially dangerous munitions to be uncovered.

“It’s not a place for the public to stop and scope out,” Ms. Potter said.

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05/24/13 8:00am
05/24/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Fresh Pond Landing Beach east from Edwards Avenue in Baiting Hollow last week.

People will be swimming at their own risk at Riverhead Town’s three Long Island Sound beaches until the end of June, according to recreation department superintendent Ray Coyne, who said the move is being done in part because of Hurricane Sandy damage, and to save money.

“Those beaches are not ready for swimming,” he said, though he said the beaches have improved in recent months compared to the condition they were in after Sandy.

The South Jamesport bay beach will have lifeguards on weekends starting Memorial Day, and swimming will be permitted there, he said. But Long Island Sound beaches at Iron Pier, Wading River and Reeves Park will not have lifeguards until June 24.

All four beaches will have attendants on weekends after Memorial Day, and town parking stickers will be required, Mr. Coyne said. People can go to the Sound beaches, but those who swim there without a lifeguard do so at their own risk, he said.

At Iron Pier, the town is replacing a sidewalk that was destroyed during Sandy, said Supervisor Sean Walter. That work is being paid for with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, he said.

[Editorial: Town shouldn’t scapegoat Sandy just to save a buck]

The supervisor said he supports the decision not to post lifeguards at Sound beaches until June 24.

As for the condition of Iron Pier beach, Mr. Coyne said, “We just needed to clean it, because there was a lot of debris that had washed ashore during the storm. We lost some of the beach, but I’d say we’re in fairly good shape at Iron Pier.”

In Wading River, Mr. Walter said the town dredged Wading River Creek over the winter and got permission from the state to deposit the dredged sand on the beach in front of the homes between the creek’s eastern jetty and the town beach. That sand was pushed up against what used to be the dune, he said, and helped cover up a lot bulkheads and cesspools that were exposed following Sandy.

As for the town beach there, “I don’t think we lost a lot of beach at Wading River,” Mr. Coyne said. “We are in pretty good shape over there.”

The town doesn’t operate Hulse Landing as a bathing beach with lifeguards, but people need parking stickers to park there, and the town also has a boat ramp there, Mr. Coyne said.

That beach has rebounded nicely since the storm, Mr. Walter said.

“It’s just a slightly different landscape this year at the beaches,” Mr. Walter said. “Overall, I don’t think it will be anything insurmountable.”

After June 24, all four beaches will be open — with lifeguards — seven days a week. Last year, the town opened all four beaches on weekends only after Memorial Day with lifeguards and attendants, switching them all to seven days a week at the end of June, Mr. Coyne said.

“It’s a combination of things,” Mr. Coyne said in explaining the staffing changes. “Because of Hurricane Sandy and the damage done on the Long Island Sound beaches, we wanted a little more time to clean them up. And in the case of Reeves Beach, we wanted more time for the beach to come back.”

The other reason, he said, is that studies his department has done show that not many people swim at this time of year, so the department can save money by not hiring the lifeguards.

“If people want to swim in June, they can still go to South Jamesport,” Mr. Coyne said.

Of the four town beaches, South Jamesport made out the best after the hurricane.

“South Jamesport was barely touched,” Mr. Coyne said. The bathroom was flooded by the stormwater, but the beach itself had no problems.

Reeves Park Beach fared the worst of the four.

“As of a few months ago, there was no [Reeves] beach, but it’s slowly coming back,” Mr. Coyne said. “So we’re not going to open it for swimming until the end of June, and we’re hoping there will be enough beach there to put a lifeguard stand.

“If we have to move the lifeguard stand at high tide, then we will not have it open. But I’m confident we will.”

At one point, Mr. Coyne said, the water at Reeves Park came all the way up to the staircase leading down to the beach at high tide, but the beach has been growing in the past six to eight weeks.

“If you had asked me two months ago, I would say we’re not opening it,” Mr. Coyne said.

Eric Biegler, president of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association in Reeves Park, had warned town officials earlier this year about the poor condition of Reeves Beach, but he said Tuesday that it has recovered since then.

Mr. Biegler said the decision not to post lifeguards at Sound beaches before June 24 could be a liability issue if someone has an accident or drowns at a beach without a lifeguard.

“It’s Memorial Day weekend, everyone is thinking beaches, and to not have lifeguards on duty raises a concern,” he said. “But I’ll leave it up to their judgment.”

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