Feds finalize approval of $3.6 million for Horton Avenue

A $3.6 million project to provide relief to the flood-prone Horton Avenue neighborhood in Riverhead has received final approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials said.

“We made a promise to the residents of Horton Avenue that we would fight for them, and I am proud to say we kept it,” Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said in a statement. “After I saw the devastation firsthand, I pushed for the federal disaster declaration that began this process and have continued to work on a bipartisan basis with my partners in government, including Legislator [Ed] Romaine and Supervisor [Sean] Walter, to stand up for this community.”

About 18 houses on Horton and Osborn avenues north of Route 58 were heavily damaged during a four-day storm that began in late March 2010. The storm brought some 11 inches of rain to Riverhead Town and inundated the neighborhood, which remained under water for days.

The relief plan calls for demolishing 12 houses in the low-lying area, which would then revert to wetlands “as part of a comprehensive stormwater management project,” according to a press release from Mr. Bishop’s office issued last Thursday. The section of Horton Avenue near the recently built traffic circle has always been prone to flooding because it sits at the bottom of a hill, and drainage from all directions empties into it.

The project will be completed in two phases. About $3 million will be used for the first phase, which involves the purchase and demolition of the properties. Additional work to manage stormwater runoff from upland farms will then cost an additional $600,000, officials said.

The federal government will fund 75 percent of the project, or about $2.7 million. Riverhead Town is expected to kick in the rest, about $900,000, Mr. Bishop said at Friday’s press conference, which was also attended by Mr. Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham).

FEMA had at first denied New York federal aid for the storm, but that decision was later reversed amid a strong and vocal push by elected leaders, led by Mr. Bishop, allowing the town to apply for the grant.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller oversaw the joint agency application process.

The federal funds have already been transferred to the State Office of Emergency Management, which will reimburse Riverhead Town for the cost of purchasing the properties, officials said. The federal funds will not benefit renters whose homes were destroyed, though many of those families have already relocated to new homes, said flood victim and community activist Linda Hobson.

As for finding homeowners new places to live, the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership is proposing an affordable housing development in Riverhead Town that, with the county’s help, would be able to set aside new affordable homes for the displaced families.

Mr. Romaine and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy have been working with Horton Avenue flood victims in an effort to get them any county help possible.
Mr. Romaine declined to say Friday exactly where the county is hoping to purchase land, indicating only that it was off a “well-known street in Riverhead.”

He said the houses would most likely be three-bedroom, two-bathroom houses that would be sold at below-market value. The Housing Partnership would purchase the land and Suffolk County would reimburse the cost, he said.

The flood victims as well as town, state and federal officials are planning to meet again soon to discuss the beginning stages of the property acquisition process, Ms. Hobson said. The government will be paying pre-flood estimated values for the properties.

[email protected]

Additional reporting by Vera Chinese