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Designing a living shoreline to mitigate flooding and increase community resilience

American Venice, New York

Featured image for the project, Designing a living shoreline to mitigate flooding and increase community resilience

The American Venice team  is working to design and implement a living shoreline at the mouth of the historic Grand Canal in the American Venice to help mitigate erosion and flooding and provide habitat and ecosystem services. The team hopes to co-develop the living shoreline and create an implementation and maintenance plan with scientists. Lastly, the team will create an accessible and interactive online community database where citizen scientists can play an active role in maintaining and monitoring the living shoreline.

Description

The Challenge

29 October 2020 marked eight years since Superstorm Sandy made landfall near Brigantine, New Jersey. The storm affected every community along the New Jersey-New York coastline, but was especially damaging to low-lying coastal areas that were inundated by Sandy’s unprecedented storm surge[1]. A waterfront community within Lindenhurst, otherwise known as The American Venice, is a suburban community in the Town of Babylon on the South Shore of Long Island, New York. Created by the American Venice Corp in 1926 to mirror Venice, Italy, the town is characterized by a beautiful waterfront, complete with canals, and historic Venetian architecture such as the St. Mark’s Lions, famous bridges and traditional Italian villas. Due to the community’s unique history, the American Venice is currently being preserved as a National Historic District. Despite efforts for historic preservation and community revitalization, damage caused by Superstorm Sandy is ever present in the minds of community members. Although many homes have been rebuilt and elevated, American Venice has not seen the same recovery and resilience efforts as other parts of Long Island.

Long Island’s coastal communities are growing increasingly vulnerable to flooding and erosion. As the climate changes, these impacts are becoming more apparent and frequent. Sunny-day flooding, or an increase in water unrelated to a storm event, not only occurs during spring tide[2], but is increasingly coinciding with normal high tides. This flooding can disrupt traffic and cut off access to homes and other infrastructure. Not only does Long Island experience the effects of hurricanes, but on an annual basis is impacted by winter coastal storms (e.g., nor’easters) that can bring devastating impacts. It is imperative that coastal communities not only acknowledge their risk to such hazards but begin to plan mitigative actions that take into account predicted sea level rise (SLR)[3].

Long Island is composed of unconsolidated sediments such as cobbles and sand, which are subjected to natural coastal processes that move sediments around. This can result in erosion from one area and deposition in another. Coastal communities have been fighting against these natural processes in order to attempt to keep the sediment in place, which has historically led to engineered solutions such as bulkheads and dredging. However, most efforts are temporary and need to be maintained and eventually replaced. More recently innovative solutions have been explored that allow for hybrid or nature-based solutions. These structures, known as living shorelines, incorporate native elements to work with nature to protect built infrastructure. While other states have more experience with implementing these solutions, this is still an innovative technology on Long Island; utilizing this method could serve as an example for other communities to learn from.

The Project

The American Venice Civic Association, representing 1300 houses, aims to preserve and revitalize its community by focusing on historic and environmental restoration and resiliency measures. The Association has been fighting for recovery and coastal protection measures for nearly a decade and has identified the need for nature-based solutions to build community resilience and adapt to rising sea levels. The community is proposing a forward-thinking plan to transform an eroding beach at the mouth of the Grand Canal[4] into a Living Shoreline and preserve nearby Indian Island as a nursery and habitat sanctuary. The Living Shoreline will consist of wetland habitat serving as both flood protection and a nature preserve with an associated community monitoring initiative to maintain and protect the site after implementation. The associated preserve on Indian Island will serve as an incubation site to grow vegetation for the living shoreline and promote ecotourism via watersports and wildlife sightseeing. Community leaders have already gathered tremendous community support and buy-in. So far, the Town of Babylon has already taken the first step and removed all old bulkheads near the proposed site and has indicated commitment to further investment in coastal protection in the American Venice.

The American Venice Community Team sees flood mitigation, environmental protection, habitat restoration, environmental monitoring and community science as the main objectives for this Thriving Earth Exchange Project. Through these objectives the team hopes to build community resilience and unity. This project will both bring the community together by consciously educating and engaging community and school-age children, protecting the historic district and the waterways of the Great South Bay, as well as providing tangible benefits such as building credit towards the community rating system for the National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP).

First, the group would like to develop a study centered around designing and building a Living Shoreline on the western corner of the mouth of the Grand Canal. The Team would like to work with an environmental engineer to join our Marine Coastal Processes and Hazards Specialist to help design the wetland, and then publish an implementation plan for the Living Shoreline. Following this, the Team will apply to a number of grants to supplement any of the Town’s financial assistance to help fund a community-built wetlands habitat. Specific outputs will include:

  • a website with engagement, educational material and interactive community science platform,
  • a feasibility study and one-pager to be shared with politicians, stakeholders and funders,
  • a published design, implementation and long-term management plan,
  • a community build day,
  • and a continued community science based management and engagement plan to monitor and maintain the site.

Timeline

  • November 2020: Project Description Complete
  • December – January 2021: Recruit Community Scientists and graduate students
  • January – April 2021: Living Shoreline Design
  • February 2021 – ongoing: Permitting processes
  • Ongoing: Funding search and applications
    • Public and private funding
    • Town of Babylon investment
  • Spring 2022: Community Build Date

[1] Peak Superstorm Sandy storm surge of 7.73 feet measured at Great South Bay at Lindenhurst, NY

[2] Spring tides are exceptionally high tides that occur during the new and full moon, about twice a month.

[3] Estimated SLR in the Long Island Region by the 2050s could increase between 8-30 inches and by 2100, 15-72 inches.

[4] See photo for visual of beach location

Project Team

Community Leaders

Michele Insinga, Kathy Gullo and John Vogt will serve as the community leaders. The American Venice team is highly dedicated and engaged with the project, and thus will function as a collaborative team to contribute and meet project timelines.

  • Michele Insinga has lived in the American Venice for 21 years. After Superstorm Sandy devastated areas of the South Shore and her community, she became active in disaster recovery and joined Adopt a House (AAH). AAH, is a 501-C(3) nonprofit formed early after Sandy to address the immediate needs of the community, through direct help, network of connecting disaster victims to other agencies, information dissemination, workshops and policy advocacy related to recovery and resiliency initiatives. She now serves as the AAH Executive Director and is still active in disaster recovery on Long Island. Additionally, she serves as a member of the board of The American Venice Civic Association.

 

  • Kathy Gullo has lived in the American Venice since 2001. She is an avid boater and has been since she was a little girl. Boating has been a big part of her family for at least 3 generations. After losing her own home to Superstorm Sandy and the destruction of her neighborhood, she felt the need to get involved with helping her neighbors and community to construct plans for building resilience. The American Venice Civic Association was the perfect place to put these plans into action. Before joining the Civic Association and becoming a board member, Kathy always had a strong desire to do what is right for family and friends and has just taken it one step further by joining the American Venice Civic Association.

 

  • John Vogt is a member of the Copiague Kiwanis Club, Committee man of troop 284 for the Boy Scouts of America, and both Founder and Chairman of the American Venice Civic Association. Previously, he served as the President of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of the LaGuardia Community College Scholarship Board. His hobbies include boating, fishing, and restoring his community both ecologically and historically. As an involved and dedicated community member, John does not shy away from his work and firmly believes that any obstacle, big or small, is not insurmountable.

 

  • Kathleen Fallon is the Coastal Processes and Hazards Specialist with New York Sea Grant located on Long Island. In her current position, she works with researchers and communities on various coastal issues such as flooding and erosion due to sea level rise or storm impacts. Sea Grant is a federally and state-funded program that works to bring science to the shore by communicating science to community members through various media such as factsheets, social media campaigns, and innovative technologies.

 

  • Kai Greenlees is a recent graduate from Vassar College, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Psychology. Kai is currently working towards an MRes in Sustainable Futures at the University of Exeter where she hopes to further her background in interdisciplinary environmental social science. Kai’s current research focuses on understanding and promoting community climate resilience with a social-ecological systems perspective. Past research has worked to understand how individual environmental risk perceptions influence and are shaped by broader community resilience. Kai serves as the Thriving Earth Exchange Community Science Fellow on this project.

Scientist Wanted

Scientific Partner

The American Venice Team has two opportunities to support this project as a scientific partner.

First, the team is seeking an expert who will work with the team to evaluate the project site and develop a feasibility study and implementation plan for designing the most effective living shoreline. The scientist(s) will ideally be able to visit the site in person to carry out field verifications for effective design. The scientific partner will be expected to work with the team from around January to April 2021 on a flexible schedule.

The team is also seeking an expert with web experience to help design an interactive community science database to maintain and monitor the living shoreline. If you would like to be involved in the project aspects above AND support the development of an interactive online presence for this work, please let us know when you reach out.

The community is open to the scientific partner(s) bringing in students to support this work.

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Desired Qualifications

  • Experience with environmental engineering and nature-based solution implementation for flood mitigation
  • Knowledge of climate science and coastal processes
  • Experience in community resilience and adaptation planning and design
  • Familiarity with the regional climate and geomorphology of Long Island
  • Strong listening, collaboration, science communication, and public speaking skills
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community science, education, outreach and engagement
  • Experience with web design or interest in supporting the development of an online presence for this project
  • Willingness to put community voice and priorities first
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor