As parts of East Rockaway and Bay Park continue to flood in heavy rainstorms, it’s clear to residents that the Nassau County Storm Drainage Improvement Project has yet to help them.
Work that was supposed to solve the flooding problems appears to have made things worse for some and done little for others. The hundreds of million dollar project was completed last spring, but after the new drainage system was put to the test several times over the past couple of months, neighbors have made it clear that they are not happy with the results.
The project was announced in 2014, but work began about three years ago, at the height of the pandemic. According to NassauCountyNY.gov, its objective was to address the urgent need to improve drainage in the area to avoid a repeat of the catastrophic flooding that resulted from Hurricane Sandy two years earlier.
Brian Barry, who lives on West Boulevard in East Rockaway, said that the project did not accomplish what it set out to do, as his street flooded twice in one week in January.
“The Town of Hempstead is not maintaining the new drainage system,” Barry said. “It’s full of debris, it’s full of leaves, it’s full of branches.”
Since the completion of the project, Barry noted, his neighborhood has flooded three times, despite the fact that flooding hadn’t been a major problem since Sandy, until 2022.
After the storm, community members were given an option to sign over their homes temporarily to the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, which pledged to mitigate the flooding by raising homes, or hire their own contractors to restore and elevate their homes. Barry chose the first option, which, he said, eventually resulted in worse flooding on his street.
“The town installed a driveway at my home, which is almost a foot lower than the rest of my front property,” Barry said. “They raised the street six inches, so now the street in front of my house on West Boulevard is higher than my driveway.”
The construction at Barry’s home was completed in 2019. Since then, water from the Grand Canal, roughly a hundred feet from his house, has mixed with sewer water coming up from a drain installed in his driveway to create what he describes as a health hazard. Barry’s home became a breeding ground for black mold, and the saltwater that ponds around the house during winter storms freezes, causing cracks in the floors and walls.
“They have a key to the drain in my driveway,” he said, referring to the town. “They’ve never cleaned it out. I don’t have the key to it, so they basically put a drain in my driveway, and if it floods, I have no control over cleaning it.”
A storm on Jan. 13 brought as much flooding as Barry saw on Dec. 23, 2022, when he lost two of his cars to the water. Residents who never see flooded were flooded last month, he said, adding that a Fulton Street neighbor’s newly finished first floor was wrecked.
“We live on a man-made canal,” Barry said. “If people had bulkheads on the canal that were high and if the drawing system was improved, we wouldn’t be having these massive flooding events.”
Flooding isn’t limited to the hurricane season, he said; it also takes place during the winter months. He pays $15,000 in taxes every year, he said, and his home is still subject to flooding.
“I was in and out of the house between 4 and 5:30 in the morning watching the floodwater,” Barry said of last month’s storm, “so my cars wouldn’t get flooded out like in December of 2022.”
“The Town of Hempstead recently completed a road raising project in the area, while also installing new check valves and drainage to help mitigate the frequency of flooding in the area,” Town Spokesman Greg Blower said in a statement.
The Nassau County Department of Public Works did not respond to a request for comment about the overall effectiveness of the Drainage Improvement Project.
New drains have also made things worse for Alison Castardi, who lives on the corner of Lawson Avenue and Franklin Street. More water is coming up from the sewer now than before the completion of the project, she said.
“The flooding is so much more severe, because now the drains are connecting to all these other roads, like Adams Street and Malecon Street,” Castardi said.
She lives on a dead end, next to the canal, and said that before the work began, there would be flooding near the canal, but now water comes up from the ground as well.
Like Barry, Castardi had to get a new vehicle after the flooding in December 2022. She used to have a sedan, which she said she never had to move for a storm. Now she has a truck, which she has to move or it will be flooded.
“Instead of the water just going as high as the curbs, it’s going over my entire front lawn, to my front door,” Castardi said.
Because previous flooding had always been minor, she decided not to raise her house in 2014. The flooding is bad enough now for her and her neighbors to want to do so. But that program, partially funded by the federal emergency management agency, ended in 2019.
“I couldn’t get to work on multiple occasions because the flooding made the neighborhood impossible to navigate,” Castardi said.
She reached out to the engineers of the project, asking for guidance, but she said there hasn’t been any communication from them since the work was completed. For now she is relying on the help of her neighbors, who are having the same problems she is.
“We’re certainly working together as a community to help each other,” Castardi said. “For example, we carpool to commuter lots so that we can protect our vehicles, and so that we don’t have to walk back from these lots for miles.”
Two of her neighbors have moved because of the flooding, she said. She would join them, but she is afraid no one would buy her house.
Castardi said she hoped the project engineers would take a second look at whether things were done correctly, and whether the project was a good decision in the first place.