Steven Nater, left, and Vincent Scaccai of the Head of...

Steven Nater, left, and Vincent Scaccai of the Head of the Harbor Highway Department perform maintenance work on a storm drain. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Head of the Harbor is installing new drains and overflow pools to capture water runoff from what village officials said are increasingly intense storms.

“We are trying to keep ahead of climate change,” Mayor Douglas Dahlgard said. “We realize it’s here, and it’s causing an effect on the village. We want to stay ahead of that.”

The village’s hilly topography makes it vulnerable to erosion, and a general slope toward Stony Brook Harbor threatens that ecologically sensitive area with dirty runoff.     

One severe storm in 2016 dumped roughly 7 inches of rain in a matter of hours, sending sheets of water cascading down village roads and undermining Hitherbrook Road, one of several roads leading from the village’s inland hills to the harbor.  

A storm last November submerged parts of Fifty Acre Road, a mile-long, mostly flat stretch. The village’s three highway department staffers, clad in rain gear, took more than 10 hours to pump out the water.

Storms in 2018 dumped 63 inches of rain on the village — roughly 30 percent more than normal — with most of it draining into Stony Brook Harbor, where New York State environmental officials have restricted shellfish harvesting because of sanitary worries.

“These are no longer once in a hundred years storms,” said Judy Ogden, a village trustee who serves as volunteer highway commissioner. “We’re getting hundred-year storms every year.”

Head of the Harbor officials aren’t alone in their concerns: Officials in Port Jefferson, about 7 miles east, last month said they were commissioning a study on recent storms that drenched that village’s downtown tourism and business district and recommend possible remedies.

Head of the Harbor has hundreds of drains throughout the village and often installs new ones when it does roadwork. Dahlgard said construction is likely to continue for years, whenever the village budget allows. The new drains are made from precast concrete and cost several thousand dollars apiece. Workers perform test borings and consult with an engineer before sinking the drains as deep as 40 feet below surface to reach a layer of sandy loam beneath the clay that covers most of the village.

Water enters the drains carrying animal fecal matter, oil, fertilizer and the residue of vehicle tire wear, said Lawrence Swanson, associate dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University and a village resident. As it seeps out of collection basins, it undergoes “considerable cleansing just from filtering through soil as it works its way to the harbor,” he said.

Village resident Meg Shutka said the drains were a good start. "There has been an improvement in the drainage, but I feel there's still a lot of work to do." 

Clearing drains has become one of the biggest responsibilities of the three-man village highway department that works under crew leader Frank Prinzevalli. To clear drains, his crew often uses a vacuum truck from the Town of Smithtown or a village truck equipped with a crane and clamshell bucket. The work is near constant, he said. “If we get mild weather, we’re out there doing business,” he said. “We have to be aggressive in a new way.”

The old drains that serve most of the village were designed for a more clement age, he said. “They were done properly back then,” he said, but lack capacity for current conditions. “To plan for a two-inch rainstorm isn’t enough anymore,” he said.

Drains or overflow pools installed: Fifty Acre Road, Moriches Road, Pinoak Lane and Harbor Road

Planned drainage: Watercrest Court, Fifty Acre Road and Evan Court 

Riprap on Hitherbrook Road and a planned rain garden on Evan Court are also intended to improve resiliency by slowing or collecting runoff.

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