Culverts along the Northeast Branch of the Nissequogue River will...

Culverts along the Northeast Branch of the Nissequogue River will also be replaced. Credit: Steve Pfost

Long-awaited work to stem chronic flooding in Village of the Branch near a Nissequogue River tributary could start as soon as this fall, village and Suffolk County officials said.

The $1.8 million project will remove 200 cubic yards of sediment clogging the river’s Northeast Branch and replace culverts at Branch Drive and Terrace Lane, along with other upgrades   intended to improve the flow of water into the Nissequogue River and out into the Long Island Sound.

Officials said the work will bring relief to about 50 households in the village and hundreds more in the river’s watershed in Smithtown. Thousands of residents along the watershed face periodically sodden backyards, wet basements and overwhelmed septic systems. “People are running two, three sump pumps” in their basements, said Suffolk County Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset). Village of the Branch Mayor Mark Delaney recalled seeing one of his neighbors pull a milk crate full of photographs out of her flooded basement: “Milk crates don’t work very well against water. That was heartbreaking to see… We’re hoping this is a reasonably long-term fix.”

The work was originally planned for 2014 but was delayed because bids came in higher than what county officials had estimated and additional funds weren’t readily available, said William Hillman, the county Department of Public Works’ chief engineer. A nearly $1 million grant from New York State will fund the work, with the county contributing the balance. Similar work has already been done near Route 347.

Many of the houses in the area were built during a 1960s real estate boom that coincided with a historic drought that made one-time wetlands and even shallow ponds seem safely developable, according to a 1980 Suffolk County study. But that sense of safety may have been illusory.

Geologists believe that the clay in Smithtown’s soil, deposited long ago by glaciers, is less permeable than soil in other parts of Long Island, contributing to an unusually high water table. Compounding the problem are sand, mud and undergrowth along the Northeast Branch, causing its waters to build up or “mound,” Hillman said.

Kennedy and her husband, Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, who formerly represented the area in the legislature, have for years pushed for the county to fund the Village of the Branch project and engineering solutions for the rest of the watershed.

Without consistent funding for streambed maintenance, the couple has taken to mucking out the culverts themselves with the help of friends and local scouting groups. That work has restored once-stagnant sections of the Northeast Branch, they said, but is no long-term solution, as they found on a recent tour of the area.

An isthmus of sand had grown from the streambank to almost block one of the Terrace Lane culverts where they’d spent hours digging out several feet of muck in the spring.

“This is bad, after all this work,” Leslie Kennedy said.

Down the street, Chris Hamilton, 54, a network engineer, gave a tour of his backyard, which was lush but missing a towering cedar that had toppled because the soil was too wet to hold its roots. “We get scared when the water comes up,” he said.

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