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Town completes $3.8 million anti-flood project

Taming the stream in Valley Stream

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Teenagers walked the Town of Hempstead’s new pathway park in South Valley Stream. In addition to providing a scenic walkway, it is also intended to prevent flooding in the surrounding areas.
Teenagers walked the Town of Hempstead’s new pathway park in South Valley Stream. In addition to providing a scenic walkway, it is also intended to prevent flooding in the surrounding areas.
Peter Belfiore/Herald

Mill Brook resident Bob Brown said he had goldfish on his front lawn.

His home was among the 1,600 residential and 24 commercial properties in South Valley Stream affected by flooding during Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. His house, he said, had about four feet of water in the basement, and he saw his neighbors forced to move their waterlogged first-floor belongings onto their front lawns to be thrown out.

The source of their woes was the neighborhood’s eponymously named Valley Stream — one of the numerous tributaries flowing from Hook Creek, which run through parts of the village and its surrounding hamlets. They overflowed due to the storm surge that came up through Jamaica Bay.

But for now, at least, Brown, the executive vice president of the Mill Brook Civic Association, and his neighbors’ homes may be safe, thanks to the Town of Hempstead’s completion on Sept. 12 of a $3.8 million, state-funded storm resiliency project that, in addition to restoring the wetlands along Hook Creek, replaced failing wooden bulkheads, improved storm water drainage and created a pathway park running from Mill Road to Cloverfield Road South.

“Upon the seventh anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, a lot of people think that it will never happen again,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was present for the path’s official unveiling. “. . . But in light of what’s happening with our climate, that’s a very short-sighted perspective.”

The Path to the Park project began in March 2019. Construction took roughly six months, and was funded by grants provided by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. It was one of dozens of proposed flood-protection projects for Long Island created through GOSR’s New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program in the aftermath of Sandy, and it is one of the handful overseen by the Town of Hempstead that have been completed.

“These new improvements will protect thousands of lives and millions of dollars worth of property,” Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said of the project. “All of the homes we see here have been threatened and ravaged by storm waters and flooding . . . So by building stronger and safer, we’re in a better position to protect our residents and our small businesses from the next major storm surge, which we know it’s not a question of if, it’s really just a question of when.”

Gillen thanked State Sen. Todd Kaminsky for his help in advocating for state funding for the project.

Kaminsky, a Long Beach resident, said that with rising seas and more frequent extreme weather events due to climate change, coastal communities across the South Shore are increasingly at risk for flooding. The project, he said, was a test case in how to adapt to this new reality.

“This project is emblematic of the path forward,” he said. “. . . It means that we’re going to have to make serious investments into infrastructure to hold the water back.”

Kaminsky said it was the hybrid nature of the project — vinyl bulkheading alongside natural wetland replenishment — that would ideally act as a model for flood-mitigation projects moving forward.

In addition to its chief goal of preventing flooding, the pathway park also features a number of scenic and environmental amenities including a wooden footbridge, a kayak launch, pollination gardens, an osprey nest and a wooden overlook area.

The project, like all of GOSR’s Community Reconstruction Projects, was planned using community input through local committees. Marc Tenzer, a Mill Brook resident, served as chairman of the South Valley Stream CRP committee, and acted as a liaison between the state and local community groups — chiefly the Mill Brook Civic Association, according to its president, Gil VanEtten.

While his home was not directly affected by the flooding other than losing power, VanEtten said, a number of his neighbors were. “It was devastation,” he offered. “It was like out of a movie.”

The project was given priority because of Hook Creek’s proximity to a number of high-value sites, according to the committee’s report. The Forest Road School is just over 500 feet to the west, directly to the east are both South High School and Carbonaro Elementary School, and less than a quarter mile northwest is Green Acres Mall, a major commercial hub.

“We’ve all struggled through the bad times, we’ve all dealt with flooding in our homes, our backyards and in our communities,” Kaminsky said. “. . . It’s time we turn the corner, and today is a very good day in that fight.”