Twice a month, Dorothy Benjamin knows what to expect: water, water everywhere.
Benjamin lives next to a canal in Amity Harbor. And when the lunar cycle lifts tides to their twice-monthly highs, the canal backs up into a storm drain on her street, flooding the pavement and her property.
She's lived at this address for 47 years and said flooding became an issue about 10 years ago -- after, she said, the Town of Babylon replaced a storm drain but positioned the new one at a lower level. She's spent considerable effort trying to persuade the town to intervene -- and, exasperated during a recent high tide, turned to Watchdog.
A visit to her home involved a slog through a lake that, on better days, is the street and Benjamin's dry front lawn. After the visit we called the town.
First things first: The town disagrees with Benjamin that a repositioned storm drain brought about the flooding. "We think that the original [drain] pipe had collapsed, so no water was flowing either way," town spokesman Tim Ruggeri said. And when a new pipe was installed 10 years ago, it opened the path for water to flow both ways -- from the street into the canal and from the canal up to the street.
The town has sent a letter to residents, pointing to the era when homes in the neighborhood were built: the 1950s, a time of "no environmental laws or codes, no DEC, no flood code." A time, the letter said, when houses were built at sea level or just above, instead of the 6-foot elevation required today.
And "since the drainage pipes are pitched to run into the bay," Department of Public Works Commissioner Philip A. Berdoct says in the letter, "high tides reverse the flow and seawater floods the roads and often the adjacent properties."
Can a problem brought on by 1950s infrastructure find a 2011 solution?
Benjamin thinks so. She has called on the town to install a device known as a "duckbill" on the outflow side of the drain pipe -- a valve that would allow water on the street to drain into the canal but prevent water in the canal from backing up onto the street.
The town says it's not that easy: Engineers are evaluating the effectiveness of three duckbill valves already installed at other sites in town, Ruggeri said. "We determined the first one didn't help and are still in the process of evaluating the other two," he said.
Next door, the Village of Amityville does rely on duckbills, said Public Works Superintendent Bruce Hopper, but has found them to be imperfect: When a valve closes, the seal isn't airtight. And debris can interfere, lodging in the valve and keeping it propped open.
As for Benjamin's plight: Short term, the town has agreed to repair a sinkhole at the end of her driveway, a result of recurrent flooding. But long term -- would a duckbill actually help?
For now, Babylon Town is studying the valve's pluses and minuses. And Benjamin is preparing for the next lunar high tide:
She's ordered sandbags.
On the morning after Hurricane Irene, a truck dumped decking material in front of an empty lot on Hillside Avenue in St. James. The neighbors pushed the decking material to the side of the road and notified the Town of Smithtown's Highway Department, Parks Department and Code Enforcement Bureau. We were told that construction debris is the responsibility of the homeowner. Please help.
-- Carol Napolitano, St. James
Glenn Jorgensen, the town's highway superintendent, dispatched a crew to clean up the decking material within 24 hours of receiving our request earlier this month.
He said his office had no record of being notified about the abandoned debris.
Such illegal dumping is common, he said, particularly at vacant lots or in front of wooded areas like this one.
Illegal dumping issues should be directed to the town's public safety office at 631-360-7553, Jorgensen said. That office would inspect the site and issue a work order for a highway crew to pick it up.
To legally dispose of construction debris -- ranging from old drywall to cement to bathtubs -- residents can take it to the town's municipal service facility, 85 Old Northport Rd. in Kings Park, telephone 631-269-6600.
Disposal costs are 4 cents per pound or $80 per ton.