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Smithtown to raise flood-prone Long Beach Road as sea levels rise

Smithtown officials plan to raise 1,500 feet of

Smithtown officials plan to raise 1,500 feet of Long Beach Road west of Long Beach Road Town Park by more than a foot. Credit: Heather Walsh

Smithtown officials plan to raise by more than a foot a section of frequently flooded road that provides the only ground access to homes and town facilities on the Long Beach peninsula.

The project — expected to cost up to $854,000 for less than a third of a mile of Long Beach Road — shows the urgency and difficulty of delivering essential services to Long Island’s low-lying coastal communities in an age of rising seas and worsening storms.

“The rainstorms and the wind storms have increased” in frequency and severity, Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said. Stony Brook Harbor's waters flood the road about 36 times a year, sometimes for more than a day, according to Smithtown officials, potentially stranding residents of 45 homes and impeding access to vessels and equipment at a nearby Department of Public Safety facility.

“Long Beach Road has historically flooded,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said, but higher sea levels and unusually severe weather have worsened the problem.

The project calls for raising 1,500 feet of Long Beach Road west of Long Beach Road Town Park by an average of 1.7 feet, according to town officials and FEMA grant documents. Workers would also stabilize the slope on the seaward side of the road, which runs next to Stony Brook Harbor, using a combination of rock, vegetation, erosion control mats and other natural stabilization methods.

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services would administer funding for the project, funneling up to $717,375 in FEMA hazard mitigation grant money for the work to the town.

Colin Brennan, a DHS spokesman, said the Smithtown grant, like dozens more throughout the state, would help ensure New Yorkers are "prepared to withstand the new normal of extreme weather." 

Sea levels rising

Warming global temperatures, land subsidence and other factors have contributed to sea level rise around Long Island by at least a foot since 1900, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation projects sea levels will rise an additional 2 to 10 inches in the 2020s. The agency projects that trend will accelerate.

The Long Beach peninsula flooding is “visual evidence of what we expected to occur,” said Lawrence Swanson, associate dean of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “We have to make a decision on how we’re going to deal with it … Smithtown in this case is quite right in saying this area is worth protecting.”

Mitchell and Lisa Schweitzer, consultants who moved to the peninsula in 2016, said they drive trucks or Jeeps with high ground clearance for floodwaters. Many of their neighbors are elderly. “If something happens, you couldn’t get an ambulance down here," Mitchell Schweitzer said.  

Steep bluffs along much of its Long Island Sound coast mean Smithtown is less vulnerable to coastal flooding than some other towns, which have collectively spent millions of dollars to combat flooding and erosion tied to sea level rise.

In Babylon, where some low-lying neighborhoods often face sunny-day flooding, town officials have installed bulkheading along some of the shore and raised some roads. Officials say these measures are too expensive to provide comprehensive coverage, however: Brian Zitani, the town’s waterways management supervisor, said it would cost $3 million per mile to raise 25 miles of town roads south of Montauk Highway and $1,000 per foot to bulkhead about 100 miles of coastline.

In Shelter Island, the ferry company that provides the only link for car travel between the island and Greenport will start a $560,000 project next year to raise ramps at the Greenport terminal because high tides now sometimes impede docking.

Suffolk County lawmakers in September approved a measure requiring the county’s department of public works to take sea level rise into consideration when planning major roadwork to alleviate flooding and prevent future damage.

Nissequogue Mayor Richard Smith, a lifelong area resident who represents the villagers who live on Long Beach, said flooding had grown more pronounced in the last decade.

“This is mankind’s destiny, always trying to live with nature and control it,” he said. 

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