Work to stem chronic flooding in Village of the Branch near a Nissequogue River tributary is months behind schedule, village and Suffolk County officials said.
The $1.8 million project, which started last fall, was intended to remove sediment clogging the river’s Northeast Branch and replace blocked culverts that contribute to soggy backyards and flooded basements in the area. The project was supposed to have been finished in February, but that date has now been pushed back to the end of August. A portion of Branch Drive has been closed since roughly Christmas and may remain a construction site for some time, they said. "We don't know how much longer it'll take," said William Hillman, chief engineer for the county's Department of Public Works.
Officials said the contractor was J. Anthony Enterprises of Hauppauge.
"He has performed poorly," said Hillman. Officials said the project had faced a number of problems, starting with one of the contractor's own making: "There were days when he could have been on site and was not on site," Hillman said. Company president Joseph Knesich could not be reached for comment.
A permit required for work at the site expired in January, according to a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation representative. In February, DEC spokesman Bill Fonda wrote in an email, "DEC inspected this site and informed the County Department of Public Works that it was working without a permit, failing to control sediment, and causing turbidity downstream." The agency is "actively reviewing the application for a permit modification, and evaluating enforcement actions to address the violations found during recent inspections," he wrote.
Darnell Tyson, DPW acting commissioner, said it had taken the department four to six weeks to create and test a "turbidity curtain" to protect animal and plant life in the branch. "This is a sort of exceptional case in which we had to step in and help the contractor," he said. It took a month to a month and a half for J. Anthony Enterprises to get the culverts to the construction site, officials said, a delay the contractor blamed on the manufacturer.
The county may fine J. Anthony $500 a day if the company doesn't finish by Aug. 31, Tyson said. There may be additional fees to keep county inspectors on site, he said.
Village of the Branch Mayor Mark Delaney and Suffolk County Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who represents the area, said their constituents were frustrated. "They wanted this for relief," Kennedy said. "This is unfair."
Delaney said his residents were beginning summer with their windows closed against the sound of “pumps and backhoes and all sorts of equipment."
In interviews, residents said sometimes days passed in the spring without sight of workers at the Branch Drive worksite, where construction equipment still blocks the road. Kennedy said residents had complained to her about project noise starting at 6:30 a.m. One resident said in an interview that noise had started as early as 5:45 a.m., though in recent weeks it has started at 8 a.m. Village code forbids use of power equipment before 8 a.m.
Workers have yet to start work on a second culvert on nearby Terrace Lane and must also remove silt from the streambed, said Kennedy, who said the Aug. 31 deadline seemed optimistic. "No relief is in sight," Delaney said.
Michelle Stiles, a publicist who sometimes works from her Branch Drive home, said she supported the project but felt “it wasn’t done in an efficient, timely manner.”
She tells UPS and the mail carrier that she doesn’t know when the project will finish. When she walks her dog they take a new route away from the construction site. When she’s got a conference call for work, she first walks around the house, closing all the windows against the noise.