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Engineers face pushback over Baldwin Harbor Park Shoreline project

Plans call for ‘living shoreline,’ new stabilizing bulkhead

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A number of residents are protesting a project that would transform an unused plot of land in the southeast corner of Baldwin Harbor Park, saying that it would disturb nature and cause safety and privacy concerns.

At a public meeting in Baldwin Harbor Park on Jan. 22, Town of Hempstead engineering officials and residents discussed the design elements and goals of the Baldwin Harbor Park Shoreline Stabilization Project, a $4 million effort to enhance storm protection along the shore that would also create a nature walk.

The project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by the New York State Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, aims to protect the waterfront community from storms like Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the South Shore in 2012.

Engineering Commissioner Doug Tuman and Deputy Commissioner Jeff Tierney fielded questions from the meeting’s attendees, many of whom were residents who live near the park. At times, the exchanges grew contentious.

“As a community, we’re not really happy that this was thrust upon us,” Baldwin native William McGrath said. A few residents commented on the lack of maintenance of the existing bulkhead over the years, and asked why only residents residing near the park were notified about the proposed project.

Tuman described the existing conditions of the portion of land intended to be transformed. “It’s abandoned, barren land,” he said. “Nature has taken over, which is a good thing. There’s no existing pedestrian access. The soil is currently eroding into the adjacent waterways because the bulkhead is very clearly failing at points — it’s collapsing. It’s not in good shape, by any means.”

The project calls for the installation of a “living shoreline,” or a stabilized coastal edge made of natural materials like plants and rock, and a new timber and vinyl bulkhead to replace the existing crumbling one, and aims to prevent future erosion of sediment into Oakwood Canal and Middle Bay.

A gravel path would also be created for public pedestrian access, as well as a kayak launch that would provide access to the canal and an accompanying small parking lot that would fit 20 spaces.

Engineers said about 800 linear feet of the existing bulkhead would be replaced with a new one, which would comprise about 33 percent of the project length, and about 1,600 linear feet of the existing bulkhead would be replaced by the new, natural  shoreline, which would comprise about 67 percent of the project length.

The bulkhead, also referred to as a hardened shoreline, is meant to withstand wave energy and high winds. The living shoreline is meant to promote stabilization and calmer waters, and would feature a retaining wall with plantings, including marsh grass, shrubs and trees. Tierney said workers intend to add more than 5,000 plants, including about 330 shrubs and 65 trees.

But residents said the waters were too rough to remove the bulkhead.

“You said the water is calm . . . I could show you videos right now, the water is not calm,” said Hareesha Boyagodage, a Baldwin business owner who lives on the canal.

“There’s more wave energy on the south side than there is on the north side,” Tierney said. “On the southern end, we’re doing a hardened structure. That’s where the energy is coming from.”

“It gets really rough, especially when it’s windy,” Boyagodage said. “You’re going to create a parking lot, and a lot of strangers are going to come. I have kids, and I take my kids to the Baldwin Park . . .”

He also asked why a parking lot would be created when there is an existing one in the park that he said is barely used.

“The bulkhead has not been maintained for so long,” he continued. “The right way to do it is just repair the bulkhead. Fix the bulkhead and then leave it as it is.”

“You’re not looking at the dimensions and the dynamics of the waves further back than 800 feet,” Baldwin resident Patrick Keating said. “You need 1,600 feet at a bare minimum.”

“We’re confident in our engineering,” Tierney said.

“Usually the high tide, it’s sometimes right at the top, and the waves are hitting over here like crazy,” Baldwin resident Garet Zizzo said. “It’s going to pull in the dirt and the sand, eventually, over the years. A bulkhead will last you 100 years — this is not going to last 10 years. At low tide, our canals are only three feet of water . . . It might last 10 years, but eventually it’s going to hurt the values of our properties.”

Another resident, Maria, who declined to give her last name and who lives across from the park, said people would be able to see into her backyard.

“Why weren’t we told and given a chance to say no?” she asked. “Who do we contact to say we’re not going to allow this?”

Keating said town officials never visit on a stormy day when white caps can be seen pushing through the canal.

“The Town of Hempstead takes the feedback of neighbors seriously and is working on updates to the Baldwin Park Shoreline Stabilization Plan that was presented at the community meeting in January,” town officials said in a statement. “Details will be released at a follow-up meeting with the community in the coming weeks.”

A Baldwin resident named Shawn, who also declined to give his last name, supported the project at the meeting. He lives on Wolfson Drive, near the entrance to the park, and has three little girls.

“This is even better because now it gives them another avenue to play,” he said, adding that he believes children are becoming more introverted these days. The new park would encourage them to “go outside more often. It’s going to encourage them and give them another avenue to get out.

“I was actually going to put standup paddle boats and teach my kids to do it,” Shawn said. “I would have to go all the way out to Freeport, Tobay, Jones Beach and Bayside to teach them. Now I can teach them and we can explore our own backyard. I’m 100 percent for this project.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has approved permits for the project, and officials originally planned to seek bids in January to award a contractor this month. Those dates were “a little aggressive,” Tuman said, and would be delayed in light of concerns from the community.

Tuman said construction would start in April or May, if the project moves forward.