By Stephen J. Kotz
Remember two years ago when there was a hue and a cry raised over Suffolk County’s decision to install galvanized steel guardrails along Short Beach Road in Bay Point? And remember when county officials said the guardrails, once installed, weren’t going anywhere?
Well, if a new plan comes to fruition, those guardrails will get yanked out and replaced with more aesthetically pleasing wooden ones. And there might even be some icing on the cake in the form of a walking path on the beach side of the rails, provided additional funding is forthcoming.
“This is a very nice model of the community working together and different levels of government working together,” said Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who is spearheading the effort to replace the rails. “The community advocates have done a very good job of keeping this on the front burner.”
So far, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. has been able to secure $250,000 to help fund the project, and Ms. Fleming is working to secure another $100,000 from the county’s coffers to complete the initial work of swapping out the rails.
“We have a ways to go yet,” Ms. Fleming cautioned. “I need to garner support on behalf my colleagues on the legislature, but they have been respectful of the unique needs of the East End and know we don’t ask for frivolous things.”
Ms. Fleming said she had been in contact with Bill Hillman, the chief engineer for the county Department of Public Works, about the guardrail situation since her election in 2015. Two years ago, Mr. Hillman told community members the county had installed the guardrails after reviewing a request for them from the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee. At the time, he said requests for guardrails were taken seriously and once installed, they would not be removed.
But Ms. Fleming said he agreed that wooden railings, which also meet state Department of Transportation standards, could replace the metal ones, provided a funding source could be found.
Ms. Fleming said the railings would be a natural color “and they are definitely not going to be treated with any chemical substance.” As to the steel railings? “Once removed, they can be repurposed,” she said. “Those materials won’t be lost.”
The news was greeted enthusiastically by April Gornik, an artist who lives in North Haven. Ms. Gornik launched an online petition to have them removed in the summer of 2014.
“I’m way excited about it,” she said on Tuesday. “The ideal would have been to have the guardrails removed completely — I still think anything there is an eyesore — but the next best thing is to have them replaced with something that is more appropriate.”
David Beard, the president of the Bay Point Property Owners Association, praised Ms. Fleming for not giving up on the issue after the county installed the rails. “They built them without any public feedback,” he said, “and they really dug their heels in.”
Although he said wooden rails would be an improvement, Mr. Beard said he still hoped something could be done about the distance of the rail to the road, especially at the entrance to his community. The problem, he said is if someone is heading southwest on Long Beach Road and wants to make a left turn into Bay Point, cars following them typically pass on the right. But there is not enough room for pedestrians, he said.
“We just need a mom with a jogging stroller,” he said. “There is no room. Someone will be killed.”
That problem could be mitigated if the second phase of the project, which would involve replacing the culvert over Polle Creek and running a walking path on the bay side of the rails is completed.
North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander organized a meeting last month involving community members and elected officials to discuss the matter. The group settled on a two-phase approach that would replace the guardrails first before trying to tackle the walking path.
Mr. Sander said on Wednesday he would work with the town to develop the bridge and path project possibly as a way to link North Haven’s Sunset Beach to Long Beach via a safe walking path.
Mr. Thiele said he would try to secure additional state funding in the 2017 budget for that project, but he said it would take some time to complete because it would require designs, permits, and, of course, money.
Speaking of money, Mr. Beard said it was frustrating that the county would spend good money to install the guardrails and now must spend more to replace them. If the county had asked the public in the first place, “maybe we could have just spent the money once,” he said.
Mr. Thiele tended to agree. “It’s like the governor with those signs out in Montauk,” he said, referring to an uproar over large signs welcoming visitors to Montauk that the state recently erected. “When you go out and do things without communicating, this is what you can expect.”