Rebuild by Design

Making Mill River better than before

Rebuild By Design plans to strengthen natural storm barriers


At the first public meeting to discuss the Rebuild by Design project for Mill River, government officials revealed their new plans for the waterway and Hempstead Lake State Park, which keep with the goals and theme of the original project.

The meeting on May 24 was the first gathering of the project’s Citizen Advisory Committee, which will help to plan and implement the project. All of the CAC members are residents from towns surrounding Mill River, and they all have a stake in the project and unique expertise: the group is made up of community organizers, marine biologists, environmental engineers, college students and more.

Kris Van Orsdel, the managing director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, which is overseeing the project, was in charge of the meeting. And he outlined the changes that the design group made to the original, $125 million project.

The money came from HUD and was awarded as part of the Rebuild by Design contest in June of 2014. The original project was incredibly broad in scope. Too broad, in fact, for the award it received. Over the year since, the Interboro Team, a collaboration between Dutch and American designers, has narrowed its focus and has come up with new ways to make the Mill River area more storm resilient.

“There are all sorts of issues and topics that can be pursued in terms of recovery in the region,” Van Orsdel said. “But what we really want to do is focus our opportunity here to utilize this $125 million to achieve the goals and objectives of Rebuild by Design so the area can be more resilient into the future.”

The goal of the plan is to make Mill River more resilient to storms and flooding to protect the communities that run up the entire length. The methods used will also be replicatable to help other areas around the country.

One of the biggest changes is the removal of the sluice gate from the plan. Originally, the gate would have been built at the base of the river and be able to be closed during storms to stop water from surging upriver. However, it was simply too expensive. Van Orsdel said the sluice gate alone would have cost three quarters of the $125 million award.

Instead, the project is going to focus on rebuilding the marshland at the mouth of the river and making improvements all along the length of the waterway. This, Van Orsdel said, will help absorb stormwater naturally and also help rebuild the ecosystem of the river.

A major component of the project is a greenway, which Van Orsdel said should be able to run from Hempstead High School all the way south to Bay Park. It would follow Mill River and help bring the community closer to its natural resources.

Along the same lines, the group is also looking to make a series of improvements to Hempstead Lake State Park. There are ambitious plans in place for the park: redoing all of the biking, hiking and horseback trails, adding more than a half-dozen new entrances, creating pedestrian crossings for Peninsula Boulevard and modifications to the park’s ponds.

In addition to Hempstead Lake, the park has three ponds: Northeast Pond, Northwest Pond and South Pond. A short distance away is Smith Pond, which is in Rockville Centre. The RBD plan calls for dredging the ponds and removing the silt that has built up at the bottom. This will allow the ponds to hold more water during storm surges and heavy rains. The plan also calls for cleaning out Smith Pond, which is currently 95 percent invasive species.

Parts of the river will also be enlarged and reconnected. The goal, Van Orsdel said, is to allow fish to travel from the bay all the way up to Hempstead Lake — the first time in decades that would be possible.

“We’re going to try to do things in a green, more sustainable manner,” he said.

Though the first steps have been taken, the project is still a long way from completion. It is still in the planning phase, and construction isn’t expected to begin until late 2017, with the project planned to be completed in late 2021.

“We’re at the beginning of the game,” Van Orsdel said. “We’re not even at half time.”