07/28/13 7:00am
07/28/2013 7:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | This oddly shaped, rusted object found in shallow water proved to be an unexploded aerial bomb.

Gardiners Point Island looked different to coastal biologist Curt Kessler as he walked around the remains of Fort Tyler, a relic of the Spanish-American War.

As Mr. Kessler, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, walked the small island with coworkers on July 5, counting bird nests and searching for signs of bird activity, he noticed that large concrete blocks had been moved across the island as if dragged by a giant. The sands had shifted in places.

“Sandy had really washed over the island and changed it a lot,” he said of the late October storm.

As Mr. Kessler walked along the waterline, he began to notice small metal fragments washed up along the shore.

Then he saw a strange shape just below the surface — an oblong piece of rusted metal about a foot long, nestled among a group of smoothed rocks.

He stopped. This was different from the other metal scraps he’d seen.

Mr. Kessler had served in the U.S. Navy for four years and spent time recently on the island of Saipan — a World War II battle site littered with munitions — while working with endangered species. He instantly recognized what he was looking at.

“The fins kind of gave it away,” Mr. Kessler said.

Mr. Kessler was standing only a few feet away from an unexploded bomb.

CURT KESSLER COURTESY PHOTO | U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists conducting a bird nest count on what is now accurately called ‘The Ruins.’

Better known as “The Ruins,” the rocky 500-foot-long Gardiners Point Island has a surprising history for such a tiny spot.

It was once the far end of a thin spit of sand attached to Gardiners Island. A lighthouse stood there in the mid-1800s, but by the 1890s, the island’s instability caused the government to consider relocating the lighthouse.

It never got the chance. In 1894, a storm damaged the lighthouse, which was left to fall into the sea.

By that time, storms had cut the peninsula off from Gardiners Island, turning it into Gardiners Point Island.

The island was transferred to the War Department, the precursor of the Department of Defense, four years later. Fort Tyler — named after President John Tyler — was built there to protect New York waterways during the Spanish-American War. Fort Terry on Plum Island was built for the same purpose.

Guns were installed in concrete parapets at Fort Tyler, but it saw no action and was closed in the 1920s, making it a prime target practice site for the U.S. military.

“After the Spanish-American War, they threw all kinds of stuff at it,” said Ned Smith, a librarian with the Suffolk County Historical Society.

In the summer of 1936, the U.S. Army used the abandoned fort as target practice for bombers from the Ninth Bombardment Group out of Mitchel Field in Mattituck, according to a report in The Watchman newspaper that year.

The military used 100-pound bombs that were mostly filled with sand and water, with a pound of black powder to “create a visible puff of smoke for observers,” the article states.

Though military officials assured that the bombs were safe, then-Southold Supervisor S. Wentworth Horton and East Hampton Town Supervisor Perry Duryea protested the training. Bluefish fishermen also complained about the military training, since Gardiners Point Island had become a prime fishing spot.

About a week after the training began, a well-known restaurateur from Brooklyn “narrowly escaped death” when U.S. Army planes dropped a shower of bombs over Gardiners Bay, where he was sailing with six friends, according to a Watchman article from August 1936.

Some of the bombs landed within 50 feet of his boat, according to the article.

Two years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the island a national bird refuge, but about a decade later the old fort — having now adopted the nickname “The Ruins” — was once again put in the crosshairs.

This time, the U.S. Navy targeted the island, dropping smaller bombs that weighed two pounds and four ounces from naval aircraft, according to a 1949 article in the County Review newspaper. At the time, the Long Island Fishermen’s Association reported one fisherman had 100 lobster pots annihilated by the bombing.

Once again, the East End town supervisors slammed the bombing training. In October 1949, Southold Town Supervisor Norman Klipp sponsored a resolution that said the target practice would be a “potential danger to life, limb and property” and would ruin the fishing stock.

The Navy ignored the complaints and went ahead with the bombing, sending a note to the Board of Supervisors a month later stating that the bombings posed no danger to boaters or fishermen.

The island, and what remains of Fort Tyler, were eventually handed over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as excess federal property.

The site has been used as a bird sanctuary for nesting common and roseate terns, small seabirds that feed on local fish. But while the ruins may be an ideal home for birds, it’s no place for humans.

There’s a danger that unexploded munitions could still be hidden under the sand, authorities say.

COURTESY PHOTO | Fort Tyler, in an undated photo, before it was used by the military for bombing target practice.

Mr. Kessler had just completed unexploded ordnance training, so he knew what to do the moment he saw the rusty bomb: recognize, retreat, report, record.

“Basically, don’t touch them,” he said. “You’re never sure. Even if it looks like a dummy round it could [explode].”

Mr. Kessler took a photo of the munitions lurking under the water and ran back to warn his friends and report the ordnance to his superiors.

Despite the bomb nearby, Mr. Kessler said he and the three other biologists on the island never panicked. The chance that a bomb could wash ashore had always been present, he said.

“Nobody was that surprised,” Mr. Kessler said.

But the Suffolk County Emergency Services Unit was.

“Once in a while we’ll find things outside, but this was unique,” said Lt. Kevin Burke, commanding officer of the emergency services unit.

He said the recently discovered ordnance wasn’t “easily found. If you weren’t looking for it, you might not have seen it.”

The county police bomb squad was called to the scene about 12:50 p.m., authorities said.

Southold and Riverhead Town police had helped set up a 300- to 400-foot perimeter around the area. Members of the bomb squad were ferried to the island by the East Hampton Marine Patrol, jumping off the boat into knee-deep water to prevent the vessel from running aground, Lt. Burke said.

The East End Marine Task Force’s Vessel 41 — the unit’s newest ship, designed to respond to nuclear, chemical or biological attacks or accidents — was also activated for the operation, authorities said.

Lt. Burke said the bomb squad sometimes returns unexploded ordnance to the military if the bombs are stable and in good condition. The weapons found on Gardiners Point Island — two eight-inch aerial bombs — were anything but.

“A lot of times when they’re exposed to the elements the explosive powder will leach out,” Lt. Burke said. The bomb squad would be taking no chances.

They hooked up the top two bombs and detonated, but the bombs didn’t blow up, Lt. Burke said. Those bombs had lost their explosive charges and were detonated harmlessly.

But when emergency personnel returned to the scene they found a third aerial bomb hidden beneath the first two. Once again, the bomb squad detonated a charge.

But this time, the bomb exploded, blowing a crater in the shoreline.

“That would have done serious damage,” Lt. Burke said. “If someone had been there they would have been killed.”

No one was hurt in the operation.

For years, the U.S. Coast Guard has enforced a 500-yard hazardous zone around the island where boaters cannot sail or dock. Authorities said this month’s discovery of an unexploded bomb was proof of why boaters should stay far away.

Michelle Potter, a refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the government knew there was “the possibility” of potentially dangerous munitions to be uncovered.

“It’s not a place for the public to stop and scope out,” Ms. Potter said.

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06/28/13 9:59am
06/28/2013 9:59 AM

FILE PHOTO | Superstorm Sandy caused millions in damage to Orient Beach State Park.

Orient Beach State Park is on the receiving end of more than $1 million of federal funding eight months after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the parts of the shoreline.

On Thursday, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand announced the New York Department of Transportation had been awarded approximately $1,783,778 to repair and upgrade the beach’s heavily damaged parkway.

During the storm, the two-mile-long entrance road and Gardiners Bay shoreline sustained serious erosion, and four sections of asphalt roadway were damaged and buried utility lines along the entrance drive were exposed. All of the buildings in the park were flooded and the storm surge and flooding destroyed dozens of trees and washed a lifeguard shack and picnic tables back from the beachfront.

“Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc along the parkway of Orient Beach State Park,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “These federal funds will ensure that local taxpayers are not on the hook for repairing this critical infrastructure. “

In addition to funding repairs, the money will be used toward hazard mitigation prevention measures to protect the facility from future natural disasters and flooding.

The repairs and hazard mitigation funding is being provided by Federal Emergency Management Agency through the state transportation department, which is responsive for maintaining the beach parkway.

In April the beach official re-opened following an extensive restoration, including the removal of hazardous trees, repairing the water treatment facility and elevating all utilities to above the flood zones.

Orient Beach State Park is open daily at 8 a.m. year-round.

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05/17/13 2:00pm
05/17/2013 2:00 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Sandy-damaged white pine trees on Main Road in Jamesport. Experts say white pine owners should look for green growth under needles that have been turned an orange-brown or yellow color from salt exposure during the October storm.

Spring is in full bloom, and the region’s grasses and hardwoods are greening up accordingly. But some pine trees are not, and experts say it’s due to the salt carried inland during Sandy.

White pines, indigenous trees popular in landscaping across the North Fork and all Long Island, are still showing the aftereffects of October’s superstorm. For worried homeowners who fear their decorative pines might be dead, experts say most of the salt-burned trees should rebound in time.

“This is the worst I’ve seen in quite a while,” said Melissa Daniels, president of the Long Island Nursery and Landscaping Association. “It is going to be worse in areas close to the road and close to the shores.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, says discoloration of the white pines’ needles is either orange-brown or yellow, depending on the amount of salt exposure.

“The fact the homeowners are observing damage far away from any body of water is not surprising,” Mr. Amper said. “Salt spray can be carried way inland by high winds.”

The further your pine is from the coast, the more yellow, rather than brown, the needles will appear, he said.

Ms. Daniels said this winter’s blizzards didn’t help the pines, either.

“They were using more salt than they normally would on the roads, and that splashes tree bottoms,” she said.

Some smaller shrubs, such as arborvitae, rhododendrons and mountain laurel, were also affected by the salt spray, Ms. Daniels said.

“We didn’t have a lot of rain with the storm, which would have washed it out,” she said. “You really had to have watered them after the storm.”

If white pines are displaying the brown or yellow burning effect, there isn’t anything for landowners to do but wait, the experts say.

“My short advice: Be patient,” Mr. Amper said. “Pine trees are extremely resilient. They look a lot worse than they feel most of the time.”

Most white pines will shed half their needles this year, Mr. Amper said. “You would see the first signs that the needles are being restored next year, but the tree won’t be fully restored until the spring of 2015.”

“Wait it out until the fall and see if they send out any new growth,” Ms. Daniels suggested, before starting to dig up and discard damaged pines.

“We haven’t had to replace any yet,” said Hugo Rios Jr., landscaping manager for Hugo Rios Masonry and Landscaping in Riverhead, though Mr. Rios said many of his clients are not in immediate coastal areas.

“Some of the trees were really yellow. They dropped the needles that were yellow, and now we are starting to see some green come through,” Mr. Rios said. “They seem to be getting better.”

Mr. Amper said that if a property owner sees bark beetles in a pine tree, that’s a sign the tree has probably died, and “only then is cutting it down justified.”

There are a variety of bark beetles and other trunk-damaging pests in white pines.

“For the most part people do not see the actual insects themselves, but rather the evidence of past or current attack,” said Dan Gilrein, entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. Bark beetle damage usually happens after the tree been subjected to some other stress or injury, such as salt spray or flooding, he said.

One example is the black turpentine beetle. Adult beetles are dark reddish-brown to black, and about one-third of an inch long, Mr. Gilrein said.

“One sign of attack is the resulting ‘pitch tubes’ and sap flow one sees on attacked trees,” he said. “As for the salt-damaged white pines, we suggest homeowners re-examine the trees’ growing conditions, perhaps bringing in a consulting arborist if needed, and provide the best care possible particularly during this year of recovery.”

The protected Long Island Pine Barrens areas stretching from eastern Brookhaven Town to Southampton Town are made up predominantly of pitch pine, an indigenous tree that is extremely resilient to salt spray, Mr. Amper said. The Pine Barrens lost more trees to high winds than to salt spray.

“If there is another storm, people should know to turn their sprinklers on, and water the salt out of the ground [and off the trees] if they can,” Ms. Daniels said. “If you are going to replant trees and live near a shore area, I would not recommend replacing them with a white pine.”

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05/02/13 12:00pm
05/02/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Cecily Jaffe hangs a print by North Fork artist Rob White from her Love Lane Gallery in Mattituck.

Aquebogue resident Cecily Jaffe is finally regaining some sense of normalcy. She returned to her house three weeks ago, but is stilling trying to make it feel like home.

“I just got my bed two days ago,” she said.

Hurricane Sandy caused $100,000 worth of damage to her Harbor Road home. Floodwaters also swept away half of her belongings, including furniture, family photos and other items she said could never be replaced. Ms. Jaffe, who owns Cecily’s Love Lane Gallery in Mattituck, is now in the process of rebuilding her life in the cottage she’s called home for decades.

Like many homeowners with insurance, Ms. Jaffe did not receive federal grant money for reconstruction. She was only eligible to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money for temporary housing. In the interim, Ms. Jaffe was forced to wait weeks for her insurance check, causing construction delays. She moved five times to different area hotels and apartments before work was completed on her home.

“I’m still living as if I have to move tomorrow,” she said.

North Fork Sandy victims received a low amount of federal aid in comparison to other areas in Suffolk County. According to the FEMA, 564 households in Riverhead Town received $111,000 in federal aid, for an average of $197 per affected household. In Southold Town, 451 households received $366,000 from FEMA, or $811 on average per household. In comparison, Lindenhurst’s 4,000 eligible homeowners received more than $22 million, averaging out to $5,500 per household.

In all, more than $73.5 million in FEMA funding was provided to homeowners in Suffolk County to mitigate storm damage. Less than one percent of that was awarded to the North Fork, according to FEMA figures.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Eastern Concrete workers prepare Sandra Ciricione’s Oaks Avenue home in Flanders for a new foundation Friday.

FEMA aid was awarded on a case-by-case basis, said FEMA regional director for Suffolk County, John Mills. The amount awarded to individual homeowners varied according to the severity of the damage and whether the homeowner had flood insurance, he said. No aid is provided for a person’s second home.

A spokesman for Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said Mr. Bishop’s office has been inundated with calls from homeowners who have been struggling to pay household bills since Sandy, with many requesting assistance with mortgage modifications or forbearance, which is an agreement between a borrower and lender that delays foreclosure

Greenport resident Jean Eckhardt’s Pipes Cove area home needed $15,000 in repairs after wind damaged the roof and floodwaters poured into the basement.

“I was the first person in line when I heard FEMA officials were going to be at Town Hall,” she said. “They only gave me a little.”

Ms. Eckhardt, who did not have flood insurance, received $1,500 in federal aid.

Her homeowner’s insurance covered some of the expenses, but she needed to pay for the majority of the reconstruction herself, she said.

“I had to eat most of it,” Ms. Eckhardt said. “I was hoping for more, but I am grateful for what I got.”

Sandy victims now face another costly consequence of the storm. Many North Folk homeowners will need to raise their houses — or face rising flood insurance premiums.

FEMA now requires homeowners who receive federal funding to rebuild their homes in accordance to the National Flood Insurance Program.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Cecily Jaffe moved back to her Sandy-ravaged Aquebogue home just two weeks ago.

“There are so many laws coming out that people are not being made aware of,” said Flanders resident Dhonna Goodale.

Ms. Goodale, her husband and two young children were displaced for three months after the storm. The family received no FEMA assistance, footing the bill for home repairs before finally receiving an insurance check six weeks ago, she said.

“There were fish swimming in our basement,” she said of the family’s experience during Sandy. “Now, during high tide the water floods our driveway.”

The Goodales are now wondering what to do next at the 135-acre estate.

“Should we raise the house? Should we move it? We don’t have a clue what do right now,” she said. “We need answers [from the federal government].”

Flanders resident Sandra Cirincione is in the process of raising her house in the Bayview Pines neighborhood without any FEMA assistance.

Seven inches of floodwater poured into her first floor during Sandy, she said.

“No one told me I needed to raise my home,” Ms. Cirincione said. “I decided to do it anyway. I never want to go through this again. You learn a few things when things like this happen.”

Flood insurance covered much of her home’s interior reconstruction, but that work has come to a halt until the raising work is completed.

She’s living at a friend’s house in Westhampton and hoping to return to Flanders by mid-summer.

Mr. Bishop’s office is working to inform homeowners about programs available for raising their homes. The office has a full-time caseworker to help those affected by Sandy to access relief and benefits. Anyone in need of such assistance can call (631) 289-6500.

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04/26/13 8:00am
04/26/2013 8:00 AM

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | The remains of bulkheading on Veterans Memorial Park beach in Mattituck slated to be replaced this year.

Two Mattituck park commissioners appeared before the Town Trustees last week, seeking permission to install bulkheading along superstorm Sandy-ravaged Veterans Memorial Park beach on the bay in Mattituck.

The pair walked out of Town Hall without a yes, but also without a no — and that doesn’t sit well with the commissioners, who say the beach is highly vulnerable to additional storm damage.

“It’s a viable plan and necessary to the residents of Mattituck and Laurel, who have supported this beach since the late 1940s, early ’50s,” said Gerard Goehringer, commissioner board chairman. “This is one of the most beautiful sugar sand beaches in the world and that’s what we’re trying to preserve.”

The beauty of the beach is also why the Trustees say they didn’t automatically agree to the park district’s application to install 619 feet of bulkheading.

“It’s a wide, beautiful, sandy beach right now,” said Trustee Dave Bergen. “We’re saying let’s meet out there and look at other options.”

With the project on hold, it’s unclear whether any work can take place before Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer season. The park district has also applied to both the Trustees and the state Department of Environmental Conservation for permission to remove storm debris, including parts of the asphalt parking lot closest to the water that were destroyed by Sandy. That work is expected to be completed in time for summer.

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Some of the debris left by superstorm Sandy, which also damaged part of the parking lot.

In its application, the park district proposed replacing the skeletal remains of bulkheading on the property’s west side and the cracked and sinking concrete barrier along the edge of the parking lot on the east side with standard bulkheading. It includes one opening, for a handicapped-accessible ramp, in front of the old concession stand.

Since pressure-treated lumber is no longer permitted, new bulkheading must be either vinyl or steel. Mr. Goehringer said bids for the work went as high as $1 million and the commissioners have accepted the low bid of $315,000.

“We just built a building there in 2005 and we need to protect that building, which would now cost about $1 million,” Mr. Goehringer said of the meeting room that’s sometimes rented out for private functions. “The most westerly bulkhead is just standing there and all that sand is gone. If we have another storm like Sandy there’s nothing to hold it back.”

But the town’s Conservation Advisory Council, which offers non-binding advice to the Trustees, is adamantly opposed to bulkheading there, saying “it’s doomed to failure.”

The council, said Mr. Bergen, “felt very strongly about it.”

As an alternative, the Trustees suggested installing some bulkheading along the western side of the beach but then switching to a rock revetment, with the height diminishing from west to east. The boulders in a revetment dissipate wave action, which scours sand away from the base of bulkheading and shortens the beach, Mr. Bergen said.

The board believes the boulders could be placed farther back from the water than the bulkheading as the project is currently designed, which would leave a wider beach.

With a revetment it’s also easy to include openings to provide more than a single access point to the beach, Mr. Bergen added.

But the park commissioners remain unconvinced.

The Trustees have not approved revetment for any other shoreline area in Mattituck or Laurel, said Mr. Goehringer, a point Mr. Bergen conceded. But the Trustee added that the widespread damage left by superstorm Sandy included a considerable amount of bulkheading.

The Trustees are scheduled to take another look at the beach on May 8.

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04/12/13 12:05pm
04/12/2013 12:05 PM

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | The federal government is making funds available to strengthen barriers separating some North Fork farms and coastal waters. This field of young apple trees in New Suffolk was flooded during superstorm Sandy when part of a nearby dike failed.

Earthen dikes in Cutchogue and Orient damaged by superstorm Sandy left 4.5 miles of North Fork farmland vulnerable to saltwater flooding, but the fields were not eligible for any kind of storm-related government assistance.

For that reason Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a waiver to allow the release of Emergency Watershed Protection program funds, originally only for freshwater projects, to repair the barriers.

On Tuesday the senators announced that five local farms, totaling 700 acres, are now eligible for funding through the EWP program, and that funding will cover 75 percent of repair costs, according to a release. The total cost was estimated at $1.7 million, leaving farm owners responsible for a quarter of that, about $450,000.

That’s certainly good news, said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

“Originally the state said ‘this doesn’t qualify, it can’t be considered,” he said. “That was a crock because it’s been used before in other states, including Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.”

New York’s two senators “interceded on our behalf and basically told them to get it done,” he said.

Each affected farm — Salt Air Farm and Wickham Fruit Farm in Cutchogue, and Latham Farm, Fred Terry Farm and Driftwood Farms in Orient — is protected by a dike. A combined 3,500 feet of dikes was damaged during the storm, according to the release.

The farms have all been a part of the North Fork agriculture community for over 200 years.

“The tidal surge was a foot and a half more than ever in our past,” Mr. Gergela added. “The dikes were dirt that had been packed down, and over 70 years the dirt eroded and flattened out. It wasn’t high enough to stop the tidal surge.”

Prudence Wickham Heston and husband Dan Heston run Salt Air Farm on New Suffolk Road in Cutchogue. They are responsible for maintaining the earthen dike the Wickham family built at the northern end of West Creek in New Suffolk in the 1930s. That structure made more land available for cultivation.

She said she’d welcome financial assistance to strengthen the dike she said has kept salt water at bay for 80 years “storm after storm.”

Flood tides during “The Perfect Storm” of 1992 caused the creek to flow over the dike, but during superstorm Sandy, winds knocked over a tree that had grown on the dike and opened a large hole that led to the flooding of 80 acres of farmland.

“That’s a major hit for us,” Ms. Heston said this week. “It’s very frustrating.”

Especially given that she and her husband have been working to improve the quality of that acreage, which had long lain fallow. The couple had hoped to expand their cut-flower crop there this year.

“We’ll see how long it takes to get the land resurrected again,” she said.

The water flowed west across New Suffolk Road into a low-lying field planted with young apple trees. Ms. Heston has little hope that they’ll survive.

“They may leaf out this spring, but if they do I suspect they’ll die in the July heat,” she said.

Fields flooded with salt water cannot be cultivated for up to seven years.

Mr. Gergela said the farm bureau is reaching out to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to see if any other funds are available to help farmers with the remaining repair costs.

“They still haven’t determined whether they have found enough money, but they were optimistic,” he said.

Without the EWP funding, the farmers would remain vulnerable during future floods.

“We would have tried to patch the breeches, but it would have been virtually impossible because the funds were not there,” Mr. Gergela added. “It is beyond their financial ability to do it.”

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01/06/13 12:05pm
01/06/2013 12:05 PM
New Suffolk house doesn't have a first floor after Sandy

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Until its fate is decided by Southold Town, what’s left of this New Suffolk house will stand high and dry on wooden cribbing.

The top part of a house on Kimogenor Point in New Suffolk now standing on cribbing is all that’s left of the structure damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

There’s no word yet from the town building department on whether enough of the house remains to allow homeowners to rebuild.

The Kimogenor Point Company, which has owned the private peninsula and the houses on it since 1915, earlier in 2012 planned to raze the structure and rebuild. But its request for a variance, filed long before the storm hit, was denied at that time by the Southold Zoning Board of Appeals.

The town eventually granted permission to expand and renovate the existing house, but the project was delayed again after the homeowners learned they would need to move it from its existing foundation and place it on pilings to meet new FEMA regulations, ZBA chairwoman Leslie Weisman said this week.

Ms. Weisman said once work began to put the house on cribbing, the walls apparently fell off.

The project is currently awaiting review by the town building inspector. The town code says if it’s determined that less than 25 percent of the structure remains, it cannot be rebuilt because the original structure was non-conforming.

Chief building inspector Mike Verity could not be reached for comment.

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12/07/12 12:47pm
12/07/2012 12:47 PM

TROY GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Some of the less common debris found on the shore along Rabbit Lane in East Marion post-superstorm Sandy.

Friends from around the country have been grilling us recently about how we survived Hurricane Sandy. They’ve seen the coverage of the aftermath, and they want to know if our house by the sea is still standing.

The answer is yes, we respond, but neighbors not far from our home were much less fortunate.

Numerous waterfront homes on Rabbit Lane in East Marion, which we can see across Orient Harbor from the base of our street, appeared to be irreparably destroyed. Based on our personal Sandy experience — some downed branches, some downed wires, power lost for a few days — the level of devastation on Rabbit Lane was difficult to fathom as we walked through that community the day following the storm. When you see items of clothing and family photos and record albums lying in the soggy sand, you know people’s lives have been changed forever.

So, where do we go from here? How do we help those whose homes have been destroyed? And what do we do to guard against the same thing happening again in the future?

It should be self evident to all of us that this most recent storm was neither an aberration nor an anomaly. It is our future. Despite the head-in-the-sand naysayers out there, global warming is quite real and here to stay — unless, by some highly unlikely stroke of recognition mankind wakes up in time to stall or reverse this destructive course we’ve set. But don’t bet on it. Much more likely is more of the same — melting ice caps, rising sea levels, more intense and more frequent storms and more coastal devastation.

One of the most logical things to do, of course, would be to pull back from the shoreline and let Nature reclaim the territory where we never should have settled in the first place, including the barrier islands that stretch from Key West to the maritime provinces of Canada. And that means no costly beach replenishment and no new construction in the flood zone.

But that’s not going to happen, either. Which leaves us with existing requirements, which are a little unclear because of the unprecedented nature of this most recent storm. (For example, in the process of gathering information for this column, I was at first unable to determine exact post-Sandy building height requirements — even after making direct inquiries at Town Hall and with the relevant federal agency in New York and Washington.)

Nevertheless, Southold Town’s chief building inspector, Mike Verity, reports the wheels already have been set in motion for some big changes for waterfront communities like Rabbit Lane. When I spoke to him on Tuesday, he was getting ready to meet with a representative of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), the outfit that ultimately determines what affected homeowners can and cannot do in the wake of a storm like Sandy.

If, for example, a house in a high-risk area — where there’s a 1 in 4 chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage -— suffers more than 50 percent damage, it may not be rebuilt in its former configuration. In Southold it must be raised between six and 15 feet above the relevant flood zone and the owner must pay for flood insurance if there is a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender.  (According to FEMA’s website, “Flood insurance isn’t federally required in moderate-to-low areas, but it is recommended for all property owners and renters.”)

You might think there would be some resistance to these FEMA regs, but Mr. Verity says local residents whose homes were severely damaged by Sandy seem to have read the handwriting on the wall. “Most of them are willing to make adjustments,” he said. “People know what has to be done, and they’re making the adjustments because they won’t want it to happen again.”

But it will, of course.

So, rather than throw our hands up in the air to scratch our heads on the subject of global warming, what can each of us do as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint? Here’s a list of 10 things I’m doing, or plan to do in the near future, and I’d be interested to hear some other suggestions from you, dear reader. Please send them to [email protected] and I’ll share some of the best ones in a future column.

Troy’s Top Ten: 1. Use my 75 mpg Honda scooter whenever possible. 3. Better yet, walk or use the bicycle. 3. Take public transportation whenever possible. 4. Don’t buy any more of those stupid plastic water bottles. 5. Turn off the lights. 6. Turn down the heat. 7. Lighten up on the “dangers” of nuclear power. 8. Help deliver more local news via the Internet instead of via newsprint. 9. Plant some trees. 10. Spend more time in our off-the-grid cabin.

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