Despite recently learning that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will soon conduct a feasibility study to determine if a troublesome section of Dune Road can be raised, locals still want to know what Southampton Town officials can do now to help alleviate the flooding that routinely occurs in East Quogue and Hampton Bays.
“Is there any way to maintain the lines better, so we can at least see how badly the road’s flooded?” asked Barbara Yacker-Burnstein of East Quogue during the Tiana Beach Erosion Control District meeting held on Sunday morning at Dockers Waterside Restaurant and Marina on Dune Road in East Quogue. “We need to see where we’re driving.
“It’s great that you’re looking into ways to raise the road,” she continued, “but, in the interim, we need to give safety the priority.”
The Tiana Beach Erosion Control District is one of three such districts in Southampton Town that primarily serves as an advisory board, lobbying town officials to set aside funding to rebuild the beaches and the protective dunes that line them. The Tiana Beach group meets four times annually and hosts a public hearing at the end of the summer.
On Sunday, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor joined U.S. Representative Tim Bishop in addressing the concerns of the estimated 50 people in attendance. They also provided an update on the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, which, as residents found out at the meeting, could include the raising of Dune Road from the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays to the Quogue Village border.
A quarter-mile stretch of Dune Road between Tiana Beach in East Quogue and the Ponquogue Bridge had to be closed for about three hours as recently as August 14 due to severe flooding.
One longtime seasonal resident of East Quogue, Paul DiCenso, said he’s been attending erosion control district meetings for years, noting that he has not seen much action taken after the discussions. “It’s encouraging to see that they seem to be working diligently to fix the problems,” he said immediately after Sunday’s gathering, “but it seems to be a lot of the same stuff as last year. I’m hoping something is going to happen.”
Mr. Gregor addressed most of the safety concerns raised, pointing out that the lines along Dune Road are repainted every year. But he explained that funding for the road elevation project—which is expected to cost approximately $7.8 million—has been more difficult to secure.
“We have a plan,” Mr. Gregor said. “We’re shovel-ready and we have DEC permission … we’re just waiting for the money to come in.”
He noted that grant applications are pending with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Mr. Gregor said he has been lobbying state officials in the hopes of also securing money from Albany. FEMA denied the town’s original application for $7.8 million to raise Dune Road, though Mr. Gregor said he is currently appealing that decision. “The need is to fix the road,” he said. “We’re ready to bid, but we’re not going to let FEMA off the hook.”
Mr. Bishop and Ms. Throne-Holst both noted that they think the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will agree to fund the raising of Dune Road once it completes the FIMP study.
“I’m confident that we’re in a good position,” Mr. Bishop said. “We’ve made the cut in terms of roadways that they’re going to assess, which is huge. I think it’s a project they’re going to take on.”
Ms. Throne-Holst echoed Mr. Bishop’s excitement and Mr. Gregor’s exasperation. “It can be frustrating working with all of the different agencies,” she said. “It’s a long stretch for the Army Corps to change and look at road elevation … this is a huge step for us.”
Mr. Bishop explained that Army Corps officials would be conducting the feasibility study over the next two months, and he expects a decision to be rendered in the fall.
As for Dune Road residents like Ms. Yacker-Burnstein, they were advised to keep their patience and to drive with caution when navigating Dune Road.
“It’s good to see the plans for the future are more positive than negative,” Ms. Yacker-Burnstein said after the meeting, “but the town should make safety the issue now.”
Debra Karger, who owns a home in East Quogue with her husband, Jeff, said they are trying to remain optimistic despite the slow pace of progress.
“We love it here,” she said, noting they have been visiting Dune Road since 1978. “I just hope all the hard work pays off and something will actually happen soon.”