Island Park is seeking proposals to design and engineer a massive overhaul of the village's storm drainage infrastructure, more than six years after superstorm Sandy ravaged the low-lying South Shore village.
The design and engineering are phase two of a yearslong effort to mitigate flooding and better defend the village should an extreme weather event like Sandy strike again. The two phases of the project are funded with a $40 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The days following the storm resembled a war zone," Mayor Michael McGinty said. "The only thing missing was a swarm of locusts."
The 2012 tempest sent 6- to 8-foot storm surges through the village of 5,000 residents, which sits on a marshy island just north of Long Beach. More than 95 percent of homes were damaged, McGinty said.
While the village has largely rebuilt since then, the inundation of streets during heavy rains, high tides and full moons serves as a stark reminder of the community's vulnerability to the elements.
"We've brought kids into the elementary school by fire truck" during flooding, said Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D'Esposito, whose district includes Island Park. "The water's just too high."
Patti Ambrosia, president of the Island Park Civic Association, said certain high tides and full moons make it impossible to leave her home.
"You have to wait until the tide goes down," she said.
Ambrosia said residents were frustrated with the pace of the project. And she said the flooding seems to be getting worse — an impression that Stony Brook University professor Larry Swanson said is backed by science.
Swanson, who studies coastal oceanography, said that climate change has caused sea levels to rise faster. They were previously rising at a rate of about one foot in a century, while now the rate is one-and-a-half feet in a century, he said. "And that's very likely going to increase more," he said.
To contend with these conditions, the village cleaned all 39,000 linear feet of its drain pipes and 326 drain boxes, and then mapped them with video cameras, which was the first phase of the project.
"It had never been cleaned before," McGinty said of the drainage system, which was probably installed in the 1950s or 1960s.
The village then put out the design and engineering request for proposals earlier this year, and it expects to award the contract during the summer, McGinty said. The design and engineering should then take six months.
After that, the village will replace all of its drain pipes and drain boxes with newer models that have a higher capacity and can sluice water out faster into Reynolds Channel, he said. The village will also install new "swirl separator" filters and reconstruct roads, he said.
McGinty said he is not sure when the project will be completed. "Sometime before I die," he said.
Swanson said the initiatives will improve the situation, at least for now.
"It will make a difference in the short run, maybe 20 years," he said. "But eventually they're probably going to have to really seriously consider retreating from the South Shore to some extent."
The Town of Hempstead is also carrying out storm drain improvements in the unincorporated parts of Island Park: Harbor Isle and Barnum Island. Those projects include grading roads, improving storm drains and installing bulkheads, and should be completed by 2020, Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D'Esposito said.