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Protecting the Island from disaster: Hazard mitigation plan rolled out

Shelter Island is preparing for a disaster.

Or disasters, plural, both sudden and those that take some time. It’s why the town, under the leadership of Police Chief Jim Read, who is the emergency management coordinator for Shelter Island, has drafted a “Hazard Mitigation Plan.”

According to an extensive document the chief presented to the Town Board at its Tuesday work session, “Hazard mitigation is any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk and effects that can result from specific hazards.” 

The federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 requires state and local governments to prepare hazard mitigation plans in order to remain eligible to receive pre-disaster grant funds.

In other words, the money will be granted if a plan is drafted and approved by a local municipality.

Working for several months, a committee with Town Engineer John Cronin taking a lead role, researched and identified locations on the Island that could be threatened by natural forces, and that need to be addressed.

The plan put forward has deadlines, with comments from the board members and a vote authorizing the plan this month and submission to the Federal Emergency Management Agency by October.

Being an island, water issues had the highest priorities, including coastal erosion, repairing or replacing bulkheads and road elevations to mitigate against flooding of the ferry terminals because of rising seas. Stormwater runoff is included in the plan, with specific sites marked because of insufficient infrastructure and broken or non-functioning drains and culverts.

Wildfire management is also included, with Shelter Island having more than 30 properties in close proximity to preserved wooded parcels.

Threats to the aquifer through pollutants is in the plan, as well as a mention that the town will “enter discussions” with the Suffolk County Water Authority about “establishing public water on Shelter Island.”

The Island’s ongoing issue to manage deer and ticks is outlined. What might not seem a natural consideration — cybersecurity — is mentioned, since, as the chief explained, communication is vital in emergencies. Infrastructure upgrades for official town buildings is noted, as well as new equipment and communication infrastructure for the town’s Emergency Medical Services.

The board will review and comment on the plan and vote to turn thumbs up or down to implement it at a future meeting.

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Cronin stressed the importance of approving the mitigation plan. He said that these days many people “want to debate, ‘What is the truth?’” But the document presented to the board is based on “scientific data, where the truth resides.”

In other business:

Supervisor Gerry Siller once again called on the Suffolk County Board of Elections to open polls on Shelter Island for early, in-person voting. The Island is the only town on the East End where the polls will be closed until Election Day.

All of the Island’s representatives, on the county and state level, have demanded the polls be open on Shelter Island, except Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). When asked for comment by the Reporter about the Island being shut out, Mr. Zeldin didn’t mention the Island, and said in a statement: “During this unprecedented election year, everyone must work together to ensure Long Islanders have access to exercise their right to vote.”

Councilman Mike Bebon reported that the town’s effort to create a Comprehensive Plan was proceeding smoothly. There have been 37 applicants to sit on a citizen’s advisory committee; finalists will be interviewed on Sept. 12 and 13.

Eight consulting firms have responded to the town’s proposal to work on drafting a plan, and representatives will be invited to town hall for interviews shortly.