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County to DPW: Consider sea level rise in future planning

A resolution adopted by Suffolk County lawmakers last Wednesday will require the Department of Public Works to consider the impacts of sea level rise when constructing and reconstructing county roadways. 

Sea levels are expected to continue to rise at an accelerated rate in the coming years. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s “medium” projections indicate that, since 1900, water levels will have risen six inches by 2020, 16 inches by 2050 and 29 inches by 2080.

Acting DPW commissioner Darnell Tyson said in a statement last Thursday that the department supports the measure. “[DPW] will continue its efforts to utilize readily available flood map tools to determine how rising sea levels will affect our roadways and bridges,” Mr. Tyson said.

Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who sponsored the bill, said strengthening infrastructure is one way to respond to climate change.

Before his election to the county Legislature, Mr. Krupski served as a Southold Town Trustee for two decades. He said instances of “sunny day flooding” during high tides are becoming more prevalent.

Before the legislation was passed, Mr. Krupski noted that many legislators have low-lying areas in their districts that can be susceptible to flooding.

“Working with DPW on some of these road projects, it’s pretty obvious what’s happening,” he said. “If you’re going to put in the infrastructure, put it in the right way and it will pay off in a time of high water, because people will be able to get through. It’s a good long-term investment.”

A 2017 report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that in “regions of the Northeast Atlantic (Virginia coast and northward) and the western Gulf of Mexico coasts, relative sea level rise is projected to be greater than the global average for almost all future global mean sea level rise scenarios.”

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she supported the bill and sponsored similar legislation several years ago. “Living here on an island, we have to be thinking about this,” she said ahead of the vote.

The bill acknowledges that climate change and rising sea levels are causing an uptick in roadway flooding.

In 2010, the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force issued a report to the state Legislature recommending that “long-term plans for maintenance, retrofits and upgrades should incorporate opportunities for adapting existing infrastructure to projected changes in flood risk through elevation, relocation, increased water pumping capacity, or other measures.”

As DPW plans such projects, Peconic Estuary Program executive director Joyce Novak suggested they use tools such as the NOAA Sea Level Rise map to overlay various scenarios to influence decision making.

The Peconic Estuary Program is currently finalizing its Climate Ready Assessment and Critical Land Protection Strategy to help towns identify areas that could become inundated with water in the future. Ms. Novak said the report could be used as a tool for towns to make decisions with regard to planning and land preservation.

Kevin McAllister, former longtime Peconic Baykeeper and founder of advocacy group Defend H2O, based in Sag Harbor, said the legislation is an important reminder for elected leaders.

“Political decisions made today need to benefit us 30 years out,” he said.

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