By Marco Schaden and Caroline Ryan
After multiple delays and an emergency stabilization in December 2019, the construction at Leeds Pond for a new culvert and restoration of the old culvert is underway. Construction began in early July, and it is expected to be completed in November.
Former New York State Senator Jack Martins secured a $1.5 million grant from the state to help repair the dilapidated culvert in 2014. But the Town of North Hempstead, which owns the culvert, did not accept the grant until 2016. The town waited two years before putting it out for bid in 2018, awarding it to Woodstock Construction for $1.52 million. The original start time was fall 2018, but National Grid had a mainline that needed to be worked around.
Then, PSEG had to remove a pole so Woodstock’s equipment could get closer to the culvert. When the project was to commence in the spring of 2019, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said it would not allow work to be done between April to June due to surrounding wildlife’s breeding season.
The next start date, set for July 1, 2019, was again befuddled after Woodstock Construction reported the metal sheeting for the project never came through and would need to reorder the material. The Village of Plandome Manor, which owns the road that travels along the culvert, North Plandome Road, had a meeting with town officials in fall 2019 to discuss the culvert’s construction. The town sent engineers into the culvert to inspect its status and confirmed the structure was not stable. Emergency stabilization of the culvert took place in December 2019, placing wooden beams to hold it upright.
But now, despite a hiccup, the project is on its way to completion—six years after Martins got the state grant.
“We discovered during construction two abandoned gas lines, one of which we knew about, the other one we didn’t,” Village of Plandome Manor Building Inspector Ed Butt said. “We had to have National Grid come out and test the lines so we could cut through them. That was a snag, but we probably only lost a few days total and [Woodstock] is moving pretty fast. They might actually be ahead of schedule.”
Butt has been going to the construction site three times a week to see the progress of the culvert project. His visits are within his capacity as Plandome Manor’s building inspector, but he is also a registered architect.
“I’m looking at the construction and its process, I have had an opportunity to look at their plans.” Butt said. “As an inspector, I’m just watching as a secondary review of what is going on and if I have questions, they will answer them for me. I’m protecting the village as far as making sure what is there is reflected in what is being built and they are following the plans accordingly.”
In a press release, the Town of North Hempstead said the project is being coordinated with Village of Plandome Manor Mayor Barbara Donno to help oversee the project, despite the culvert being the town’s property. Donno has been critical in the past of the project’s delays and the safety hazard that it imposes on residents. Donno could not be reached for comment.
“It is a piece of property that’s in the Incorporated Village of Plandome Manor,” Town of North Hempstead Commissioner of Public Works Victor Thomas said. “The Town of North Hempstead, under an agreement and this is something that supersedes me, I’ve only been with the town for four years, but this was an inter-municipal agreement that was written under [former supervisor] John Kaiman’s time, that the town would help the village because obviously, the village is a smaller entity with limited resources. What I can say is that it’s a Department of Public Works project. We’re in charge. But we’ve been working intimately with the village, with Ed Butt who is the superintendent of buildings. I would say [the project is] a partnership.”
The “partnership” project will see an additional culvert being built east of the current culvert. When that is completed, Woodstock will install a concrete sleeve in the existing culvert to fully stabilize it.
While the construction is going on, there may be days where North Plandome Road will have to be shut down due to construction. On Aug. 25 and 26, the road was closed due to Woodstock doing work that included two bucket cranes.
“The complicated part of the project is the only way to get in there and work without being affected by the tides is we needed to install a secondary culvert, like a bypass culvert and that’s what is being done right now,” Thomas said. “What Woodstock is doing is they’re opening up the road and putting piles into the ground that support this concrete structure.
So when the secondary bypass culvert is complete, that culvert is then open to allow tidal flow in and out of Leeds Pond. When that culvert is operating, that gives us the ability to then close up the existing culvert to do our work and all of that is happening very soon. And fortunately, the disruptions to traffic and pedestrians, that will all come to an end relatively soon.”
The structure of the existing culvert currently has excessive erosion on the walls and cracks throughout the ceiling. Cracks have also been seen on North Plandome Road and a noticeable depression is in a part of the road going over the culvert.
“It was bad,” Butt said. “The walls of the culvert were supposed to be a foot thick and at certain points probably less than six inches. This is a concrete structure where you could put your hands through some of the reinforcing bars where there were reinforcing bars, most of them were eroded. On the bay side [of the culvert], it was basically destroyed.”
The existing culvert is about 70 years old, and the ongoing project should see the new and rehabilitated culvert last for the next 75 years, according to Butt. Thomas stated that the lifespan could be anywhere from 50 to 100 years.
Safety concerns have been paramount when discussing the state of the culvert. If another delay occurred, Plandome Manor discussed the possibility of putting weight restrictions for vehicles on North Plandome Road.
“Just looking at it from a structural engineering aspect and how much erosion was there, one bad storm, [culvert] filled with ice and then throw a concrete truck on top of it, it could go,” Butt said.
The health of Leeds Pond, which borders the Science Museum of Long Island, has oftentimes been overlooked when discussing the project. Adding a second culvert will increase the tidal flow capacity between the pond and the bay, creating a better ecosystem for wildlife that rely on the pond.
“The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was very pleased with our project because it’s almost like adding another lung to the pond,” Thomas said. “The important thing to stress is that it’s a project that took a while, but the final product is really a huge improvement to the health of Leeds Pond.”
Town Councilmember Mariann Dalimonte was reached for comment, but redirected questioning to the town’s press relations staff.
“The Leeds Pond Culvert is a vital thoroughfare that connects the Port Washington peninsula with Manhasset,” Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said in a statement. “The new culvert will allow tidal flow for Leeds Pond and provide the opportunity to restore the existing culvert. Councilmember Mariann Dalimonte and I look forward to continuing to work with Plandome Manor Mayor Barbara Donno on this critical project.”