After facing delays due to COVID, plans for wetlands restoration project in Aquebogue set to resume

The timeline for a proposed wetlands restoration project in Aquebogue has been delayed due to COVID-19 with construction beginning likely in 2023, according to Joyce Novak, director of the Peconic Estuary Partnership.

Ms. Novak provided an update on the Meetinghouse Creek Main Road Restoration Project at Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session. The project to construct a stormwater wetland to treat runoff was first outlined last year. The 2.6-acre, Riverhead Town-owned property is located on Main Road, just east of Aquebogue Cemetery, across from Church Lane.

“The stormwater wetland is intended to improve about a 5 1/2 acre section of the Meetinghouse Creek watershed,” Ms. Novak said.

Meetinghouse Creek was identified two years ago as a priority project, she said. The project was originally put out to bid in spring, but faced delays due to COVID. A request for proposals is out again, Ms. Novak said, with a closing date of Dec. 2.

“We’re very excited,” she said. “There’s been a lot of questions and interest in this project.”

The goal is to execute a contract with an engineering firm by the end of January 2021. Town engineer Drew Dillingham is part of the project team and can weigh in on selecting a contractor and providing guidance, she said.

Design and permitting is expected to run through all of 2021. Ms. Novak said permitting in particular is expected to take a significant amount of time and they are planning that to be done by the end of 2022.

“We completed a conceptual design in 2019, which was a stakeholder based process,” Ms. Novak said. “There was a lot of input from the town and the community in this design.”

To help finance construction costs — estimated at $530,000 — Peconic Estuary Partnership will be applying for New York water quality improvement grants. The Town will not incur any costs, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said.

A steering committee will be formed to participate in meetings on the project. Ms. Novak said the committee will include officials from the Department of Environmental Conservation, Suffolk County and Riverhead Town. Members of the public wouldn’t necessarily be part of the steering committee, but a public presentation could be considered to allow the community to provide feedback or ask questions.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Mr. Dillingham said. “This is going to be a high profile project in a high profile location. I think it would be beneficial to everyone to get public input.”

Ms. Novak said she hoped Mr. Dillingham would play a key role in guiding the project, which will increase the ecological quality of the habitat and improve water quality in the downtown stream wetland.

Several meetings between the Steering Committee and Peconic Estuary Partnership would take place, starting with a kickoff meeting to formulate the project approach. A 90% draft design meeting would follow, along with a 90% final design meeting and then 100% design meeting.

“It will offer 100-year storm protection and 90% of runoff from a storm event,” Ms. Novak said. “It also includes an emergency spillway to allow for stormwater and excess of the 100-year event to flow downstream into the wetland.”

The current wetland area is about an acre and will be increased to about 1.2 acres, Ms. Novak said.

“More importantly, the ecological value of the habitat will increase exponentially,” she added.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio raised a concern about the conceptual design plan, which appeared to show an entry on a private road, instead of onto Main Road, where construction vehicles would enter and exit.

“I think that issue has come up, Ms. Novak said. “That corner is intended to go right to Main Road, it doesn’t actually cross that private drive. That’s something the engineering design will of course make clearer.”