Pictured Above: Shipyard Lane in East Marion during the flooding on January 10. | Daniel Maul photo

As the East End faced a one-two punch of coastal flooding overnight Tuesday, Jan. 9 into Wednesday, Jan. 10 and again on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 13, Southold Town staff began work on a new project to map areas of frequent flooding in anticipation of a new Coastal Resiliency Action Plan getting underway this year.

“We have issues in the tops of the creeks, where the water just stays there. That wind chased that high tide in Friday evening and the tide level didn’t change — the wind held it there until the next tide pushed it even higher,” Town Highway Superintendent Dan Goodwin told the Southold Town Board at its Jan. 16 work session.

“Down near Goldsmith Inlet, I had to explain that their entire subdivision is below an elevation of five feet, and they’re getting it from both ends — freshwater wetlands and the tide coming up from the other direction,” said Town Engineer Michael Collins. “No amount of work we did on Mill Lane is going to solve that problem. They’re in a hole.”

New Town Supervisor Al Krupski said he has asked its Geographic Information Systems Technician and Land Management Coordinator, John Sepenoski, to prepare a map of vulnerable town-owned infrastructure in preparation for the coastal resiliency plan, which has received $100,000 in seed funding in this year’s town budget.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency has maps showing official flood zones, Mr. Goodwin said these regional tools “don’t necessarily have pinpointed hyperlocal information.”

“We don’t have to spend money on a consultant to tell us where the problem areas are,” he added. “Let’s get some elevations and pinpoint them.”

First Street in New Suffolk on morning of Jan. 10, after flood waters came in overnight..
First Street in New Suffolk on morning of Jan. 10, after flood waters came in overnight..

Mr. Goodwin said he’d like to establish a plan for detour routes during storms around known problem areas, like Pine Tree Lane and Skunk Lane on Nassau Point in Cutchogue.

Mr. Collins said he wanted to make sure detour routes that are established aren’t also underwater.

“If you look at some of the signage for Coastal Evacuation Routes (elsewhere on Long Island), it’s underwater,” he said.

Mr. Collins and Mr. Goodwin said in the long term the town can use the maps to guide where it might elevate streets, but in some areas elevated streets would be much higher than adjacent private properties.

“How do we raise the road if they choose to do nothing with their property?” asked Mr. Goodwin. “If we’re talking about raising the road two to three feet, are we going to have trouble?”

These storms “gave us a really good idea of where we’re going to have problems going forward,” said Mr. Collins. “It wasn’t a major storm. It wasn’t a full moon. But the flooding was as bad as I’ve ever seen it in some places. We’re trying to get a sense of where there are potential solutions and where there simply aren’t. Between Wednesday and Saturday, we have a really good start on the map.”

Mr. Collins also urged the public, if they see running water, to “not drive through it. It only takes a couple inches of running water to float away a car.”

Mr. Sepenoski suggested the town commit to doing a better job of evacuating people with special needs.

“That’s going to be a large discussion, and I think the map will help,” said Mr. Krupski, adding that he wants to discuss the coastal planning with the town police department and North Fork fire departments.

“Mother nature is coming, and we’re all in the way here,” said Mr. Krupski.

“People need to take it seriously, when the fire department or the town reaches out to you,” said Mr. Goodwin. “When there’s three or four feet of water in a house and people are scurrying up to the second floor, it’s too late at that point. We can’t have our first responders go in there and risk their safety.

The end of Main Street in Greenport at Saturday morning’s high tide.

Just before the height of high tide on Saturday morning, Greenport Mayor Kevin Stuessi was moving traffic cones blockading the south end of Main Street back from the water that was still creeping upward, as the highway department was working to close bayside roads on residential streets.

“Today is certainly one of the highest days of water we’ve seen in a very long time,” he said later that afternoon at a forum at Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library on development and historic preservation. He said he and other Greenport Village officials had urged Southold Town to go forward with the coastal resiliency plan last year.

“There’s a lot of talk about raising houses up to preserve them… but architects are also taking advantage of that, building up and building underground pools and gyms,” he said. “There’s a controversial issue in Montauk of managed retreat, where they’re literally looking at the hotels along the beach and moving them back.”

The Peconic Baykeeper posted this photo of East Creek in Jamesport on MyCoast on Jan. 10.
The Peconic Baykeeper posted this photo of East Creek in Jamesport on MyCoast on Jan. 10.

The Southold-Peconic Civic Association took to Instagram on Saturday to share a new way members of the public can help document flooding, by downloading an app called MyCoast developed by New York Sea Grant and the New York State Water Resources Institute. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is asking for the public’s help documenting flooding through the app.

“Documentation of local flooding can be valuable to emergency managers, local planners, state agencies, and residents to further understand our environment and the impacts of flooding on every New York community,” says the DEC. “The MyCoast New York Portal is used to collect and analyze photos of flooding, changing shorelines, and hazardous weather impacts.”

“Remember not to take photos of flooding when it is not safe to do so!” they added.

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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