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Marsh preserve in Oceanside submerged during Sandy to be rebuilt

Hempstead Conservation and Waterways employee Kim Lamonica, left,

Hempstead Conservation and Waterways employee Kim Lamonica, left, Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen and Thomas Doheny, commissioner of Conservation and Waterways, at Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area on Friday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Seven years after the Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area was submerged by superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene, Hempstead officials have unveiled plans to rebuild at the marsh preserve.

The town was awarded a $1.7 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a new state-of-the-art 2,600-square-foot education center at the entrance to the 52-acre salt marsh and tidal creeks preserve.

The town was able to repair and reopen the existing educational center on Slice Drive after the storm, but the town now plans to demolish the building to build a new flood-resistant structure with an aquarium, classrooms and a wraparound observation deck overlooking the preserve toward Reynolds Channel.

“it’s important to get our children interested at a young age about why they should care about our wildlife and water quality,” Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said. “When we’re facing storms and environmental changes we haven’t seen in past, this connects us to the impact of a storm.”

Construction on the new building is slated for the spring with work expected to last about eight months, town officials said. The town has completed design plans and is now soliciting bids for construction. 

The 50-year-old preserve has reopened since Sandy but without equipment and supplies. The stone educational center was badly damaged, and wooden boardwalks were destroyed and tossed into the marsh.

An analysis by FEMA said the original buildings sustained extensive foundational and steel structural damage and recommended they be demolished and rebuilt.

The town was awaiting money from FEMA for the past several years, behind a long list of other Sandy projects. Town officials replaced wooden boardwalks with more resilient grates that can withstand the tidal surge.

The new building will be elevated with a waterproof perimeter up to 3 feet high, solar powered with a backup generator and equipped with flood doors, vents and a sump pump. It will have accessible ramps, geothermal heating and energy, several fish tank displays and live specimens of marine life.

The preserve was created in the 1960s by the town’s former commissioner of Conservation and Waterways, who ordered the marshlands preserved and a freeze on further development. Harold Udell told developers to stop filling the wetlands and dredging in the bay, said Thomas Doheny, commissioner of Conservation and Waterways.

“Otherwise, this would all be homes in the 1960s,” Doheny said.

The preserved Marine Nature Study area is home to 250 species of birds, including ospreys, egrets, and other elements of the ecosystem, such as milkweed and shrimp that live in the marshlands.

The site hosts more than 16,500 visitors every year, including 180 classes and regular bird walks by the South Shore Audubon Society.

“The tidal marshes are an important habitat and different ecosystems,” Audubon Society member Paul Stessel, 78, of Oceanside said. “The high and low levels are a very important place for birds.”

Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area

FEMA grant $1.7 million will build a 2,600-square-foot educational center

Construction to start in the spring

Home to 250 different species of birds, including ospreys, egrets and other elements of the ecosystem

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