Town of Southold Highway Superintendent Dan Goodwin stands near the flood...

Town of Southold Highway Superintendent Dan Goodwin stands near the flood prone area of the tidal wetlands and Grathwohl Road in New Suffolk. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Whenever a storm brews, Dan Goodwin checks the winds and tides to shore up streets that typically flood in Southold.

Goodwin, the town highway superintendent, loads trucks with signs and barricades to keep residents from using low-lying roads that wind along creek edges across the North Fork.

Street flooding in the town has become routine, even in areas not marked on Federal Emergency Management Agency maps.

“We don’t even need to have a storm of any significance,” Goodwin said. “We could have an easterly wind direction and a lunar high tide and we have roads that are completely impassable.”

The town recently began a project to map flood prone areas to help residents better prepare for emergencies and plan longer term solutions. Goodwin is leading the project with town engineer Michael Collins and John Sepenoski, who heads the town’s geographic information systems department. The mapping project is the first step toward a larger coastal resiliency plan.

Town Supervisor Al Krupski said the project will pinpoint safe alternate routes drivers can use to “get to where they’re going, but not drive through standing water.”

The map can also be a useful tool for first responders if rescues are needed, officials said.

Back-to-back storms earlier this month left South Shore communities reeling from flood and erosion damage, prompting the state to pledge $5 million to replenish sand at ocean beaches. Though the North Fork was mostly spared, the events brought the flood plain into sharp focus. 

Rising seas and more intense flooding amid a changing climate threaten more than 60,000 miles of roads and bridges in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Southold’s 2020 master plan lists coastal resilience as a priority to protect its 210 miles of shoreline and more than 1,100 homes and businesses in the flood zone. The town’s 2024 budget includes $100,000 to begin drafting a coastal action plan, a move officials said can help the town get state and federal grants for future infrastructure projects.

Civic leaders have pledged support, saying action is overdue.

“Southold is a little behind the eight ball, but at least they’ve got it on their priority list,” said Cutchogue Civic Association vice president Dave Bergen, whose family has lived on Nassau Point for four generations.

“There’s got to be some major changes in these communities,” Bergen, 68, said. “If not, they’re one storm away from these homes being potentially destroyed.”

A draft map, expected by the end of February, will help guide decisions on roads that can be raised and related costs, Goodwin said.

Collins cautioned that raising roads isn’t a cure-all either, and could require partnerships with private landowners so the town’s efforts don’t send floodwaters rushing onto their properties. Examples could include redesigned driveways and new drainage systems.

“We’re trying to get a sense of where there are potential solutions and where there just simply aren’t,” Collins said.

In the meantime, highway officials are taking a proactive approach.

Last year, while repaving sections of New Suffolk Avenue and Minnehaha Boulevard, crews raised the road between 18 and 24 inches, Goodwin said. It cost $40,000 and both areas were good candidates since they don't abut private property, he said, adding that road raising decisions are "completely case by case."

Southold isn’t the only town that wants to improve its ability to bounce back after coastal storms.

Bergen urged the town board to reference East Hampton’s coastal resiliency plan adopted in 2022.

Krupski, a former Suffolk legislator, said the oceanfront town faces unique challenges and doesn’t support using sandbags to prevent erosion.

“It's what happens when you try to take on Mother Nature. And we're just not equipped to do that,” he said.

Mapping out a solution

  • Southold has embarked on a mapping project to better understand flood prone areas in town and establish detours that aren’t also underwater.
  • Maps can also help first responders during evacuations and rescues.
  • The 2024 budget includes $100,000 toward a coastal resiliency action plan.
  • There are 210 miles of coastline in Southold and more than 1,100 homes and businesses in the flood zone.
Trump on trial … Nassau getting new police vehicles … Lego camp Credit: Newsday

Updated 1 minute ago Lab results due on Bethpage drums ... Trump on trial ... Best LI high schools ... Knicks go up 2-0

Trump on trial … Nassau getting new police vehicles … Lego camp Credit: Newsday

Updated 1 minute ago Lab results due on Bethpage drums ... Trump on trial ... Best LI high schools ... Knicks go up 2-0

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME