More and more frequently, Riviera Drive in Mastic Beach becomes simply River Drive, residents say.
Flooding, previously only an occasional nuisance in the South Shore hamlet, has worsened in the past three or four years as water from Narrow Bay inundates local streets and lawns, they say. It has become so bad that storm drains don't function, mail and packages don't get delivered and friends and neighbors can't visit one another.
"The bay basically comes in," resident and civic leader Frank Fugarino said. “It’s paradise except for whatever number days we lost to water.”
Federal, state and local officials gathered Friday at a meeting convened by the office of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) to discuss the problem and potential solutions, such as raising roads and elevating an outflow pipe that becomes submerged in high tides, preventing stormwater from draining back into the bay.
Streets such as Riviera, Whittier, Dahlia and Longfellow drives flooded six times in a three-week period last month alone, Fugarino said. Some residents have sold or donated their properties to be turned into wetlands since superstorm Sandy in 2012.
"Since Sandy, there’s been flooding where my grandchildren have not been able to walk even from my house to my parents’ house” about 200 feet away, said Nicholas Spano, a former state legislator whose family owns six summer homes in the community. Spano, whose brother Mike is mayor of Yonkers, represented the lower Hudson Valley in the Assembly and Senate from 1979 to 2008.
“It’s been increasingly impossible for us to maintain any quality of life down there," Spano said. "Because we're almost to the point where we need a canoe to get to each others’ homes.”
Flooding on Long Island's low-lying South Shore probably is irreversible, said Alison Branco, coastal director for the Long Island chapter of the Nature Conservancy. She said water levels could rise as much as 6 feet in some areas by the end of the century.
Local officials should begin planning to eventually encourage residents of Mastic Beach and other waterfront communities to pack up and move away, Branco said.
“What they’re experiencing now is only going to become more frequent as time goes on,” Branco said in a telephone interview from her Cold Spring Harbor office. “There‘s really not a whole lot to prevent it. ... It’s time to start figuring out how to help those people get out of harm’s way.”
Efforts such as raising road beds has helped slightly, but not much, residents said.
“I used to think that small improvements might help," Fugarino said. "I’m wrong. Small raises of highways do not matter.”
Spano said he sometimes turns around and returns home to Yonkers when flooding prevents him from reaching Mastic Beach, but his family has not discussed selling their vacation homes.
“We hate to do that because our hearts are in Mastic Beach," Spano said. "We’ve been going out to Mastic Beach since we were small children. We love the area. … We hate to think we’d have to abandon our area [where we] have had so many great, great memories for our family for generations.”
Future water levels
Low and high estimates for rising water levels on Long Island over the next eight decades
Low: 2 inches
High: 10 inches
Low: 8 inches
High: 30 inches
High: 58 inches
Low: 15 inches
High: 72 inches
Source: The Nature Conservancy, "Climate Change Adaptation"