07/13/13 8:00am
07/13/2013 8:00 AM
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | An excavator clears debris during demolitions on Horton Avenue last fall.

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | An excavator clears debris during Horton Avenue demolitions last fall.

A plan for Riverhead Town to use federal grant money to install flood-prevention measures on Horton Avenue has stalled after a new engineering report forced the price of the project to jump nearly five times higher.

Now town officials say unless they can secure more grant funding, the drainage plan is dead in the water.

“I think the [Town] Board is not going to be able to go forward with the second phase,” said Supervisor Sean Walter. “The money just isn’t there. We can’t print money like the federal government.”

The original proposal for $600,000 worth of drainage installation was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through a reimbursement grant in October 2011, more than a year after torrential rains flooded Horton Avenue, forcing out more than a dozen families whose homes were damaged by the waters.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A plan to prevent this section of Horton Avenue from flooding has been put on hold, town officials said.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A plan to prevent this section of Horton Avenue from flooding has been put on hold.

But a new report discovered by the town’s engineering department has revealed that the amount of land that drains into the Horton Avenue area is nearly double what was originally estimated. That drove the price up to $2.9 million, town officials said.

Town engineer Drew Dillingham said a report filed by a consulting firm in 1979 shows the acreage that feeds into the watershed was “significantly higher” than the 700 acres he originally estimated.

Mr. Dillingham checked the area again and found that the acreage was closer to 1,200.

“Everything ends up there, or in the vicinity,” he said. “What that means is, you’ve got a lot more water coming to your design than you initially anticipated.”

Mr. Dillingham said he was rushed on the initial study because of tight FEMA deadlines.

“This was a slam-together, fast-estimate job,” he said. “Everything was in crisis mode.”

The original plan called for shallow channels called swales to be dug north of Reeves Avenue in a farm field, he said. But because about twice as much water flows into the area near Horton Avenue, the new design calls for moving the swales by clearing a wooded area east of Horton Avenue and replacing it with sand trenches, digging out a nearby dry pond seven feet down to groundwater and creating a man-made wetland that would catch the rainwater.

Out of the $2.9 million cost of the new project, about $2.3 million would pay for labor to remove the wooded area, with the remaining $600,000 set aside for materials and plantings, Mr. Dillingham said.

Mr. Dillingham said that because the town was forced to update the plan and increase the price, FEMA would now demand the town put more of its own money into the project.

He said Police Chief David Hegermiller, who is the town’s FEMA liaison, is trying to find other ways to fund the project.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | It took more than a week for flood waters on Horton Avenue to subside last spring. About a dozen houses were ruined.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | It took more than a week for flood waters on Horton Avenue to subside after the 2010 storm. About a dozen houses were ruined.

“We are in fact looking at other grants to get this done,” he said, adding that Chief Hegermiller is also considering building a sump in the area, a cheaper alternative to the current $2.9 million proposal. Mr. Dillingham said the sump would provide more “more bang for your buck,” but he was unsure if FEMA places restrictions on what type of solutions the town could use for that area.

The man-made wetlands management project was part of a larger $3 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that let the town buy back homes from the flood victims at pre-flood values and demolish the houses.

Though the wetlands project has stalled and may be abandoned, Mr. Walter said the primary goal of the project was to get residents out of the potential flood zone.

“We moved the people out of harms way,” he said. “At this point, if it were to flood, no houses would be underwater.”

Former Horton Avenue resident Linda Hobson, who became an advocate for the flood victims after the 2010 storm and worked with politicians to get the grant approved, said she’s concerned by the way the street looks now that the homes have been demolished.

“There are still residents living up there and I’m not sure they’re going to want to live there, with what it looks like right now,” she said. “You dug out some houses and it looks like a big void.”

But she said that she is “very content” with the outcome for her and her fellow flood victims, one of whom recently closed on a new house in Center Moriches paid for by the funds she received by selling her damaged house back to the town.

“I am elated that it’s over and that I’m getting my life back together … The most important part of it was done, and that was the part that concerned people and housing,” Ms. Hobson said. “We’ll just have to move on from here.”

psquire@timesreview.com

02/01/13 1:00pm
02/01/2013 1:00 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy High School principal Carl Semmler (left) and Shawn Leonard, a Mercy graduate and architect for the school's planned pond remediation project, at the foot of the pond on school grounds last week.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy High School principal Carl Semmler (left) and Shawn Leonard, a Mercy graduate and architect for the school’s planned pond remediation project, at the foot of the pond on school grounds last week.

Bishop McGann-Mercy High School is nearing completion of a pond remediation project that aims to bring dying wetlands back to life, while educating students about remediation and stormwater pollution.

If successful, school and environmental officials say, it will also help protect the health of the Peconic Bay system.

“What’s very cool about this endeavor is it’s going to take this drainage area and make it a living, breathing thing,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, a partner in the project.

The health of the more than 100,000 square feet of wetlands on the Mercy campus has been declining for some time, principal Carl Semmler said. He and Shawn Leonard, a 1985 Mercy graduate and the architect on the project, have unveiled the next steps in a plan they say will naturally filter pollutants from the pond before the water reaches the Peconic.

They will create what Mr. Leonard calls a “plunge pool,” a man-made pool that draining stormwater will enter “so that sediment can settle things like gravel or other pollutants,” Mr. Leonard said. The water will then make its way down a man-made stream, powered by the area’s elevation, before eventually entering surrounding wetlands, according to the project plans.

Surrounding the plunge pool, stream and natural wetland area, they will add plants to absorb nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pollutants known for their harmful effects on aquatic ecosystems, according to the New York State Environmental Protection Agency.

“The plants will be the natural filter,” Mr. DeLuca said. “Essentially, the hope is that the water will have high oxygen, lower turbidity and be healthier downstream.”

Since the project began in November, the area has been stripped of invasive plants, identified with the help of Riverhead Town and Group for the East End. Plant and tree life native to the area have been protected, with the state DEC inspecting progress of the project intermittently, Mr. Semmler said.

They will use the remediation project as an opportunity to teach students about the wetlands, integrating it into the science curriculum.

“We will be teaching children how to understand stormwater pollution, the cause and effects of it,” said Deborah Kneidl, director of institutional advancement for the school. “Ultimately, the goal is that we are training stewards for the future.”

“We actually got out there before the construction and took some baseline data on the site prior, so we can see how it changes throughout the different stages,” said Mercy graduate Jennifer Skilbred, educational coordinator for Group for East End, who has been helping set up the educational component. It will include field data collection and lab experiments.

Mr. Semmler said the plan is to build a laboratory adjacent to the wetlands so students can perform experiments close by.

“The ideal thing would be for a student to take a seed, grow it into a wetland plug and plant that plug,” Mr. Semmler said. “They can take the plug full of the pollutants and the poisons and then test the leaf structure of that plant to show how much poison or pollutants it absorbed.”

That means students will be maintaining the wetland with fresh plants while removing pollutants from the wetland, Ms. Kneidl said.

Mercy plans to invite other schools and universities to utilize the area, and is in the early stages of collaborating with universities, including Molloy College, Fordham University, and St. Joseph’s College. “I have spoken with one professor at each school and they have interest in being involved, getting their students to do research projects there. It is exciting stuff,” Ms. Skilbred said.

The project could also introduce students to alternate career options they might not have considered before, she said.

The project has been in the works since 2006, when Mercy applied for a DEC permit. It was granted the permit in 2008 and then applied for funding from the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation. After its third application, it was awarded $750,000 in 2011 under the stipulation of a match commitment from Mercy alumni, bringing over $1 million in donations to the project, Ms. Kneidl said.

Mr. DeLuca said there is a lot to be learned from the project.

“The most important thing [is] that we come to understand what is going into that pond now,” he said. From that they can see the amount of pollutants that are entering western Peconic, endangering bay waters.

“The western part of the estuary has the greatest trouble. It is in that part that we have had brown tide algal blooms,” Mr. DeLuca said. “The more that we can do to help the better.”

The project is not without controversy, with at least one neighboring resident voicing concern. A project closely connected to the remediation project will fill in 17,000 square feet of adjacent wetlands to create a softball and practice field, with funding coming from private alumni donations. Those wetlands serve as an area for stormwater runoff, creating concern about possible flooding. The pond being remediated doesn’t currently pipe in stormwater runoff and, once it does, it will make up for the adjacent wetlands, Mr. Leonard said.

The remediation plan will also expand existing wetlands by about 53,000 square feet, making up for the lost wetland area, according to Aphrodite Montalvo, citizen participation specialist for the DEC, a stipulation needed in order to get the 2008 DEC permit.

“The DEC looks forward to the completion of this project and believes it will both improve the environmental quality of the area and serve as a valuable educational tool for the school,” Ms. Montalvo said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has also expressed support for the project, calling it a “win-win” at a Nov. 20 public hearing.

The remediation is on schedule and expected to be completed by May 2013, according to Mr. Semmler, who calls the project “a true partnership to try and bring the community together.”

cmiller@timesreview.com