$14M Water Project Washing into OB This Off-Season

Commonplace flooding on Bay Walk’s west end, Ocean Beach. Photo by Shoshanna McCollum.

Heavy construction crews will replace some of the 106-year-old sewer pipes in Ocean Beach when a long-sought $14.5 million project that will also mitigate persistent flooding downtown kicks off this fall, officials say.

The village board advanced the project during a special session on July 24, when trustees unanimously approved borrowing the funding through bonds backed by a no-interest loan from the New York State Environmental Finance Corporation, which issued a grant for part of the project. The board also awarded the contract to Hampton Bays-based MRJ Industries, which expects the work will take 300 days – meaning that if that weather cooperates, work may be finished by May, but if it’s a stormy winter, the work may take two off-seasons to complete.

“It’s taken us seven years to get to this point,” said Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott, noting that since costs have risen, the scope of the project has shrunk by a third. “We’ll be able to get from the sewer plant to Dehnhoff [Walk] done with this money.”

The project is the latest in a string of major infrastructure improvements the village undertook since Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, such as renovating village hall, rebuilding the ferry terminal and replacing its police station.

The first phase of the sewage project aims to resolve the issue of groundwater infiltration in the sewage system by replacing some of the aging pipes. The second phase will create a stormwater drainage system so floodwaters can flow away from low-lying areas of the bayfront commercial strip.

“The increased flooding conditions from removing infiltration could result in a threat to public safety and property,” Woodbury-based D&B Engineers and Architects, P.C. wrote in a November 2020 report on the project. “As such, it is necessary to reduce runoff as part of the project … [to] help mitigate the flooding impact caused by replacing the leaking sewer collection system, and reduce the duration of flood events.”

Officials have applied for $150 million in grant funding from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to complete the project in the western end of the village and the rest of Ocean Beach.

“This is not going to stop the water coming in,” Mallott said. “This will just drain it quicker … It will be pumped up into this system, go through a filtration system and come back out to a pipe that’s under the ferry terminal.”

The stormwater pump-out will include a check valve to prevent backflow, a duckbill on the exterior of the outflow pipe and a cleanout system, all of which should keep the water flowing out.

Some community members raised concerns about why the borrowing was being voted on in a special session and not during a regularly scheduled monthly board meeting.

“Part of the reason that we’re anxious to get the contractor on board is to allow them to start ordering all the materials that they are going to need for the project so they are ready come October,” said Thomas Schaeffer, the project manager. “Every day matters when they are trying to hit that date.”

Others wanted to see the entire village done as a part of the same project.

“We’ve waited forever to do this,” said village resident Andrea Nimberger. “There should be a way to figure out how to do the whole town and not just satisfy half the taxpayers.”

Trustee Dawn Hargraves echoed the sentiment when she voted for the project.

The back-and-forth also drew in local tennis enthusiasts, who are concerned with the fact that the construction crew will be using the tennis courts as a staging ground for the project. Village officials assured residents that MRJ is contractually obligated to make sure the tennis courts are returned to a smooth surface once workers clear out of the area. Some tennis players remained concerned that they may not be able to play next summer in Ocean Beach as a result.

“Can we use the Summer Club courts?” asked Paulett Mann. “If we propose … some sort of monetary compensation … some sort of contingency plan, just in case.”

Mallott noted that both Fire Island Summer Club and Seaview have traditionally refused any of Ocean Beach’s prior requests for tennis time, but will try again.

The wagon park also is likely to be redesigned as a result of the project, since the stormwater pumps will be installed underneath that area, although specifics of how the wagon park may be reconfigured were not immediately available.

The project comes as environmentalists are still lobbying to have Fire Island hamlets neighboring Ocean Beach eventually hooked up to the village’s sewage system to reduce the amount of nitrogen seeping into the Great South Bay from antiquated septic systems on the barrier island.

“The [Fire Island Association] is pushing as hard as they can,” Mallott said when asked about the progress of those efforts. “They’re working with the county. They’re working with the state. They’re working with the environmentalists … They’re going hard to the hoop.”