Drama resurfaces on Oakdale Marshland

File photo

Drama resurfaces on Oakdale Marshland

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
10/4/2018


OAKDALE—The Oakdale Marsh Restoration and Public Access Project was discussed during a community meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at the West Sayville Fire Department. After a heated meeting, many of those in attendance left unsatisfied.

Over the past 100 years, the man-made Grand Canal of Oakdale has become so clogged and polluted that it fails to meet clean water standards. This is largely due to sewage effluent from local homes and the Dowling sewage treatment plant. 

In 2010, the remainder of the sewage capacity at Bergen Point, West Babylon, was given to Wyandanch, while the Oakdale Sewage Corp. sold all the land that was meant to be the site of an Oakdale-Sayville sewage plant to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 

The wetlands that the Grand Canal supports have since declined. Aerial pesticides, which are meant to deal with the rampant mosquito problem, are adding to the pollution. Saltwater tidal flushing is also at an all-time low due to shoaling and the creation of the Shore Drive Bridge, which has changed the course of the waterway. 

At the meeting earlier this week, officials from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, NYSDEC and the Louis Berger engineering group presented their Alternative Analysis Report on the restoration project. They offered local residents three separate plans, none of which they say will completely prevent flooding into the properties that surround the marsh. 

Doing nothing was the first option given. “Let nature take its course,” said civil engineer Matthew Holthouse. This would cost nothing, but also provides no protection against sea-level rise projection and reduces storm resiliency. 

The second option costs a little over $1.7 million, the most expensive of the three. The plan provides marsh restoration and improved habitat diversity and is expected to reduce overall flood durations east of the Grand Canal levee berm. According to officials, it also doesn’t allow for any “wiggle room during design and construction with available project funding.” In addition, this plan would be rendered obsolete if sea levels rise above the culverts that are installed. 

Option three, which costs just under $1.5 million, provides “long-term storm resiliency through marsh restoration” by allowing “natural processes and sedimentation to occur.” Officials say this plan will also reduce overall flood durations east of the Grand Canal levee berm. It also allows for design additions and buffer during construction with total funding. This option may require removal of sediment accumulation, invasive vegetation treatments and supplemental plantings. The third plan is the one recommended by officials. 

The 100 or so people in attendance were then given time to ask questions and give feedback. This is where things became heated, spiraling into disarray with presenters and attendees talking and sometimes even shouting over one another. 

For starters, numerous residents expressed frustration that the project allows for “public access,” a term that many found to be vague. “I didn’t buy my house expecting to have people wandering around my backyard,” one resident said aloud. 

Andrew Cohen, an Oakdale resident, then spoke at great length about how none of the options given would rectify the marsh’s problems. Cohen argued that dredging the marsh would be the best option, as it would remove all the hazardous debris.

Funds for the project were originally given to the community in 2012, shortly before Hurricane Sandy, as part of a statewide restoration effort by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. This particular restoration was put on hold as a result of the infamous storm. 

Jeanmarie Buffett, the Long Island regional director for the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, expressed sympathy for residents’ concerns, but insisted that dredging wasn’t an option. Buffett explained that the three alternatives given were the most feasible. They are also the only options that fit into the limited budget, she added. 

Cohen, along with many others in attendance, continued to push back against the plans, insisting that dredging is the best option. Cohen gave his opinion that officials want to do as little as possible, while giving the impression that they are doing all they can. He also criticized New York State and Suffolk County for what he sees as their unwillingness to do “what makes the most sense.”

Buffett said the meeting was merely to present the community with potential options. No decisions were made. 

Residents also expressed frustration about the apparent lack of public outreach. One local resident insisted that the turnout was only as big as it was because he knocked on neighbors’ doors, alerting them to the meeting. Many attendees backed up his claim. 

This publication only heard about the meeting through the Oakdale Historical Society. There was no press release from the DEC or any of the other organizations that participated. 

Residents asked if or when similar meetings would be held. 

Officials suggested those in attendance leave their name and contact information at the door; that way, they could be notified about future meetings on the subject.