“Don’t throw any food,” Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss grinned, gingerly getting up in front of members of the chamber of commerce at Piccola Bussola after delivering his 2012 state of the village address on September 18 for a traditional question and answer period that follows the annual speech.
Many of the questions followed the outline of the speech, with construction and flooding leading the list, possibly attributed to the severe ongoing storm outside the restaurant.
Following the announcement that crews were reportedly set to repave Jericho Turnpike earlier in September, the mayor said that the state department of transportation “told me they were going to do it in the beginning of September, this is the middle of September and they haven’t started yet, although we all saw the nice little orange covers – I don’t know if you were petrified like I am about flooding.”
It was estimated to take 5 weeks to repave Mineola’s section of Route 25, but Strauss said he did not know if crews would be starting at Glen Cove Road and move west or starting at Herricks Road and working east. Crews will reportedly be working at night so it should not impact businesses.
The state department of transportation also said they were going to retime the traffic lights but “I’ll believe that when I see it,” Strauss said. “But they promised me that after the road paving’s done, they’re going to take a look at it. and see what they can do to try to alleviate the (tremendous amount) of traffic.”
Strauss specifically mentioned the area of Jericho Turnpike from Marcellus Road to Roslyn Road as being a hurdle, noting the “glitch” of Willis Avenue and Mineola Boulevard, which are operated by Nassau County and not New York State.
The village is currently “hovering” around $21 million in debt, down from about $30 million several years ago. A recent refinancing of some bonds would allow the village to realize approximately $1.3 million in savings over 12 years, but that savings would not be used to pay down debt, instead according to Strauss the village would put the savings back in the general fund for use on addressing curb issues and other infrastructure problems. Last year the village paid $580,000 to repave 3 blocks: Latham Road from Garfield Avenue to Jericho Turnpike and Andrews Road from Jackson Avenue to Jericho Turnpike. Mineola does receive receive CHiPs funds – approximately $150,000 per year – to help repave the roads.
On August 15 there was massive flooding in the village, including in the area of Elm Place and Jericho Turnpike in the area just east of McDonald’s.
“There’s a myth out there, there’s an urban legend, whatever you want to call it that there’s gates that open up; you dial a number and magically these gates open up in Memorial Park or somewhere else down south of us and it’s a fallacy,” Strauss said in response to a question about how to address the issue. “It’s just a volume issue, that’s the issue there.”
The state will “skim” the surface of the road so tractor-trailers will still be able to get under the trestle, but “the only thing that anybody can do to handle the volume of water – and they say that these are 100 year storms, we seem to be getting them every week, and I’m not going to get into the whole climate thing, but when we were kids, we had three or 4 ft. of snow that lasted all year, maybe I was shorter, I don’t know – these 100 year storms are coming every 100 days, it’s strictly a volume issue and the only way to combat that is to dig up the roads and put larger diameter pipes in the roads,” the mayor said. “Take a guess at what the cost for that would be.”
If Mineola were to replace its pipes with larger diameter ones, it would only push the problem down the line to other communities whose drainage pipes are smaller so backups would still occur.
“It’s a massive (issue),” Strauss said, “it’s just not a Mineola issue, it’s everywhere.”
The Winston and Churchill apartment projects are going forward as developers are lining up construction companies with ground breakings planned in 2013.
The village recently installed on the department of public works garage that are helping to power that building. However, the village cannot energize the pool and their own buildings due to LIPA and other federal rules.
“If we wanted to put solar panels on the roof of village hall, we can’t run wiring underneath Washington Avenue and (also have) the fire house,” Strauss said, noting that the village only had to pay $75,000 for the panels due to grants. There is no specific number available about how much the village has saved since installing the panels.
“I’m looking at a couple other things for efficiencies,” Strauss said, mentioning an idea to install a fuel cell as a backup generator in village hall for emergencies. The mayor said that he has held talks with Port Washington-based Watt Fuel Cell, which takes combustible fuels like natural gas, and alters it in order to generate electricity. similar to home generators, but with next to zero maintenance.
“It’s actually a box probably about 10 in. wide, about 2 ft. tall and about 8 in. deep and you can put it in the basement of your house,” he said. “If you have natural gas, you can have it piped in there and you hook it up and run your electricity off of there. We’re looking to do that in village hall. I’m not sure it’s going to happen, but that’s what I want to see if we can get an alternative fuel source. Currently the village hall does not have a backup generator.”
During Hurricane Irene there was no phone or power in village hall and the administration had moved staff members to the water department because of the 24/7 generators located at that building.
“I think it’s important for somebody when they call village hall with an issue that they don’t get a recording and certainly in a crisis,” Strauss said. “My goal is to very day not get a recording when you call. I want to give you guys and the residents some comfort in a time of crisis, at a time of need that you’ll call someone and you’ll talk to a human being, not a voice machine, that’s one of my goals here and I can’t do that right now at village hall because we don’t have a generator.”
One of the most visible casualties of the storm was the gazebo in Memorial Park, which was later torn down. The village plans on replacing the structure, but has not put out any bids to contractors. Strauss and trustee Paul Cusato have met with an engineering company on a preliminary basis to determine costs and possible designs of a new structure.
“I want the gazebo in Mineola to be functional, I want it big enough for the Nassau Pops to be on it, as potentially space is what we have to deal with but I also want it to be so nice that people say ‘you know what, we’re getting married next week, why don’t we get our pictures done at Mineola’s gazebo?’No offense to anybody that lives in Garden City, I don’t want you to go to Garden City, I don’t want you to go anywhere else,” the mayor said. “I want you to come to Mineola. Location wise, I’m not really sure where we’re going to put that right now.”
A small debate centers around placing the new structure at its original location in the center of the park or put it back on the lawn where North Hempstead normally places it’s showmobile when the Nassau Pops Orchestra performs. Placing the gazebo at the far end of the park would also enable the village to show off the long lawn in the area.
“It’s so beautiful,” the mayor said of the park. “I’m not really sure if putting a gazebo right in the center of that is sectioning off the park is the best answer. It might be the only answer; that’s something the engineers will have to tell us.”
Regarding the empty parking lot on southwest corner of Roslyn Road and Second Street, Strauss said that the Roslyn Road at-grade elimination project for the Long Island Railroad has not been officially closed by the state, which is why it remains out of control of the village and unopened.
“I asked them why and they said they weren’t sure,” he said, “it must be a problem with some contractor, I don’t know what they’re waiting for.”
The mayor added that he was not sure if the state would turn over the lot “as is” or if the lot would be finished and repaved along with flood prevention work.
Meanwhile the village is continuing to do its own flood mitigation in the village to provide relief to long-suffering residents.
“We’ve been touting this Bruce Terrace project as being focused on Bruce Terrace,” the mayor said. “It’s not,”
The entire flood mitigation project encompasses the area around Bruce Terrace but also involves East Second Street as well.
“It’s actually almost criminal what goes on there,” Strauss said. “If you drive down East Second Street, there’s businesses that have to have sandbags in front of their buildings to try to prevent the water from going in.”
The estimated cost of the project by engineers is $1.7 million, with the work being split among three agencies:the Village of Mineola, the Town of North Hempstead and Nassau County. Mineola received about $800,000 from state Sen. Jack Martins, who helped to broker the three-way collaboration and secure funding for each of the entities for their portion of the project. On the village’s side, they are looking to install new drainage piping along East Second Street. Mayor Strauss also said that he would be asking Sen. Martins for additional aid this year for flooding mitigation.
“He knows the concerns, he knows the issues, so we’ll see what could happen,” Strauss said.