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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.


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.


  • 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


Read a Case Study About This Project

Creating a living shoreline for community resilience: AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange helps American Venice preserve and persevere amid changing conditions

Coastal communities along the Atlantic seaboard have experienced a range of hardships in the last two decades connected to routine and evermore destructive major weather events. The eight million residents of Long Island, extending 118 miles due east of New York City’s five boroughs, struggled after Superstorm Sandy destroyed upwards of 100,000 homes in 2012. In the aftermath, municipal authorities and property owners alike raised new and urgent questions about changing expectations for future events. How much higher could flood waters get? Could infrastructure be reliable for families fleeing inland or rescue crews pushing out towards the danger? Ultimately, what could it mean to live in a resilient coastal zone fated to increasingly more violent weather events but determined to thrive regardless?

Read the full story here.

Project Team

Community Leads

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.


Community Scientist

  • Dr. Kathleen Michelle Fallon is a Marine Coastal Processes and Hazards Specialist with the New York Sea Grant. She provides technical assistance on issues associated with coastal processes, hazards, and marinas and recreational boating facilities.


Community Science Fellow

  • 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.