Storm clouds’ silver lining

07/15/2010 12:00 AM |

Riverhead residents have been on the receiving end of some much-needed good news.

The first shot in the arm came in the form of permit approvals for the town to dredge heavily shoaled Wading River Creek. Federal and county governments have even pledged to fund the bulk of the project’s $100,000 cost.

Making that waterway navigable is important not only to area boaters and homeowners, but to anyone who might find him- or herself in need of emergency assistance while out swimming, boating or kayaking in Long Island Sound. It’s the only good launch point for rescues in that area of the Sound.

That news was followed by an even bigger announcement Saturday — that Riverhead Town and the rest of Suffolk County would be eligible for FEMA disaster aid, after all, to clean up after the late March gusher that dropped upwards of nine inches of rain on parts of the region. FEMA at first rejected a disaster designation but recently reversed itself.

The storm, which left dozens of Riverhead residents homeless and cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars, compounded the effects of a nor’easter that had torn across Long Island just a few weeks before. That first storm ripped out or weakened trees and softened and saturated the earth, making the March 29-30 storm that much worse. It inundated neighborhoods and basements across Riverhead, especially in the area of Horton Avenue, where flood waters rose as high as first-floor windows. For those and other reasons, the two storms were — finally — combined into one federally recognized disaster.

Riverhead Town, already facing budget problems, may now seek federal reimbursements for emergency pumping and road work — including materials, overtime and contractor costs — as well as for flood damage at Town Hall, police headquarters and the Jamesport Community Center. Mold remediation alone cost the town almost $55,000.

But the best news may be yet to come.

The next step will be for the town or county to apply for disaster mitigation money to help find long-term relief for the residents of Horton and Osborn avenues, who were hardest hit by the March storm.

Many flood victims still can’t return to their homes, and may never be able to. Such money could be applied to help lift houses out of the flood zone or to purchase and demolish the affected houses and help residents find new places to live.

Our elected officials from both parties have given us every reason to believe they could help make this happen for the people of the Horton Avenue neighborhood.

After seven months filled with record snowstorms, record temperatures, floods and fires, our elected leaders have remained steadfast in getting us back on track. From Wading River to Jamesport, they never gave up on helping to get our voices heard and our needs addressed in a town too used to feeling ignored. Keep up the good work.