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Bluff near American Indian burial ground to be restored

Suffolk County Legis. Al Krupski, near a bluff

Suffolk County Legis. Al Krupski, near a bluff seen at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead on Wednesday. Credit: James Carbone

The protection of a popular park in Riverhead from erosion will now be possible after new funding was approved this week by the Suffolk County Legislature to create a living shoreline for the park’s bluff.

The legislature voted 17-0 on Tuesday to approve $1.2 million for a project at the Indian Island County Park bluff as a long-term solution to mitigate erosion issues at the park.

Storm damage and wave activity have repeatedly affected the park, which required the Suffolk County Parks Department to frequently replenish the sand on the bluff to maintain its integrity, according to county legislators and advocates for the project. In addition, erosion during a 2003 storm resulted in skeletal remains and artifacts being exposed in the area from a nearby American Indian burial ground.  

Harry Wallace,  chief of the Unkechaug  Indian Nation, said in an interview that efforts to protect the shoreline had been discussed for several years, with legislators and project advocates debating which course of action would offer “the most protective and least invasive plan.”

“We’ve been lucky and fortunate that we haven’t had a major event in that particular area that has affected it to the extent of more remains having been exposed, but our luck can run out at any day. We know that if we don’t do something, there will be another exposure incident,” said Wallace, 65.

Suffolk County Legis. Al Krupski  (D-Cutchogue) said in an interview that despite previous efforts to mitigate the erosion, a more permanent solution was necessary.

“Some of those efforts have been made, but we’re looking for a longer-term solution that is going to protect that burial ground,” Krupski said.

The Suffolk County Department of Public Works will oversee the project, according to Parks Department officials. Public works officials did not immediately return requests for comment.

Construction of the shoreline will be handled by Woodbury-based engineering, architectural and construction management firm D&B Engineers and Architects P.C., according to Suffolk County spokesman Derek Poppe. The project will reconstruct the beach with compatible beach nourishment fill designed to prevent additional erosion and use revetments and vegetation to move breaking waves away from vulnerable sections of the beach.

The project, funded through county-approved serial bonds, would protect the upland area where the remains were buried and it would protect the shoreline from erosion, Krupski said.

“It’s a cultural resource, and if it’s a burial ground for anybody, whether it’s 5,000 years old or 50 years old, you’d want to protect it,” Krupski said, adding that the park was “a very popular spot” for recreation.

Wallace said the shoreline work would result in a situation in which “everyone can enjoy the park and yet the park will be protected from erosion that will protect any human remains in the area.”

  • Indian Island County Park is 275 acres, located at Cross River Drive along the Peconic River, and is open to the public year-round, according to the Suffolk County Parks Department website.
  • The bluff at Indian Island protects a known American Indian burial ground, in addition to an access road known as Circle Drive and picnic areas which visitors use.
  • Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the park was “heavily used” by campers and visitors, and the town was “happy to have improvements to the parks in the town of Riverhead.”

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