Excavating in a Public Nature Preserve To Mitigate Flooding Creates Other Obvious Problems

While The Great South Bay is far from The North Fork County Preserve, what is happening there would trouble anyone who cares about our bay. If Suffolk County is a poor steward there, why would they be any better on The South Shore?

At the preserve, the fate of sensitive wetlands hangs in the balance. Friday, June 23rd, late afternoon a giant excavator arrived at a trail leading into the preserve.

The Excavator

Then the permit was made public. Work on the preserve, $600K of it, would begin first thing Monday morning.

A small group of homeowners, upset that water from the marshy preserve has been flooding their property, petitioned to have the issue addressed. Unfortunately, the plan involves dredging in a marsh with sensitive habitat, and disrupting the hydrology of the preserve through the construction of several containment ponds.

The reaction to this was swift and viral. Hundreds of Facebook shares. The environmental community was sickened at this development. Moved by this public outrage, Suffolk County engineers are now contemplating a change in design that would avoid the most sensitive areas of the North Fork County Preserve. Although we’re pleased that the County is willing to contemplate a change, the question remains: “How did the project get approved in the first place?”

As Dr. Eric Lamont, President of the Long Island Botanical Society puts it:

“Suffolk County’s Drainage Improvement project at the North Fork Preserve County Park had no public input, no public meetings, and was approved behind closed doors. The project will alter the delicate balance of natural water levels of the 60+ acres of freshwater wetlands on-site and includes bringing heavy machinery into wetlands, destruction and removal of wetland vegetation, and digging deep holes in and around wetlands. The environmental community, and numerous concerned citizens, have reached out to Legislator Al Krupski, the only person who can help minimize the significant adverse environmental impacts”.

Given the timing of the project (this is absolutely the wrong time to go in to a marsh habitat and start dredging, given how much wildlife it will kill this time of year), and the location of the planned impoundments, it does not appear that biologists played any role in the environmental review process. As Luke Ormand, wildlife photographer, naturalist, and Suffolk County resident notes:

“The County is seeking to undertake work during the most important time of year for the federally threatened northern-long eared bat, which is likely a resident of the Preserve, in terms of reproduction and raising their young. In addition, the summer months are also prime breeding and rearing months for a wide range of avian [bird] species. As a wildlife photographer who has visited the preserve many times and who has dedicated his professional career to protecting Long Island’s habitats and public open spaces, it is unconscionable that this work has occurred with such limited review and foresight.”

The Preserve is also home to numerous endangered and threatened plant and animal species that are extremely sensitive to slight changes in hydrology and habitat disturbance. Again, there was no consideration made here. Perhaps the most striking part of this project is that the County issued a negative declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).

Under the SEQRA process, in order to issue a negative declaration, the County must make the representation that “the action as proposed will not result in any significant adverse environmental impacts.” 6 N.Y.C.R.R. § 617.2 (y). The statute sets forth clear standards for significance; an action that involves “the removal or destruction of large quantities of vegetation or fauna; substantial interference with the movement of any resident or migratory fish or wildlife species; impacts on a significant habitat area; substantial adverse impacts on a threatened or endangered species of animal or plant, or the habitat of such a species; or other significant adverse impacts to natural resources” is considered to be significant. § 617.7 (c)(1)(ii). A negative declaration is not an exercise in balancing harms versus benefits, rather, there must be no potential significant adverse impacts of the project. Thus, by the clear language of the statute, Suffolk County failed to properly comply with the SEQRA process.

As such, in order to avoid unnecessary litigation on the matter, it is incumbent upon Legislator Krupski to act to save the wetlands from overzealous engineering practices. This destructive plan, one that would only benefit a few privately owned homes, must be modified.

Our suggestions are as follows:

  • Eliminate the three planned impoundments (#6, #8, and #9) which are in the most sensitive areas of the park;
  • Conduct a robust native planting in areas to be impacted by construction related activities;
  • Educate the surrounding landowners about the merits of natural flood control and stormwater buffering using native shade- and wetland-tolerant plants and trees (“Swamp Forests”) that would act to lower the water table and mitigate flooding.

It is our hope that conscientious engineering practices, revised with the input of expert biologists, will help to avoid the clear significant adverse environmental impacts of the project.

Our greater hope is a more enlightened approach to environmental mitigation and remediation will emerge from this so that we are all rebuilding habitat on Long Island rather than further destroying it.   That said, here’s a shot of one cut already made through the preserve.

Then there’s this video of the destruction currently being wrought by the excavator:

Please contact Legislator Al Krupski today:

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 631-852 3200

District Office 1
423 Griffing Avenue
Suite 2
Riverhead, NY 11901

The people of Long Island deserve better environmental stewardship and oversight. We need to evolve from always seeking engineered solutions when its best to work with nature. Huge earth movers don’t belong on public land, especially when it appears few questions were asked, and a few benefited.