Suffolk County is working on a shoreline stabilization project in an attempt to end the severe erosion of the point at Indian Island County Park and protect an ancient Native American burial grounds.
The shoreline there has been retreating for years due to tidal action. It severely eroded in an October 2005 storm, unearthing the cremated remains of at least two people believed to have been buried there during the Early Woodland period, from 800 BCE to 800 CE. The charred bones were analyzed by a forensic anthropologist. They were subsequently re-interred further upland.
The whole area is an ancient Native American burial grounds, Prof. Lisa Cordani said in an interview at the site earlier this month. The burial grounds probably dates back 5,000 years, said Cordani, a professor of anthropology and archaeology at Suffolk County Community College.
Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Indian Nation urged the county to take action to protect the burial grounds.
“All it takes is one real serious storm and I guarantee you that there are more bodies there,” Wallace told the county legislature’s Parks and Recreation Committee in November.
Erosion has taken at least 20 feet of the shore at the point since the 2005 storm, Wallace said.
Formerly upland trees have been uprooted by erosion and fallen. Other trees still standing now have most of their roots exposed. Large rocks that were placed on the shoreline after the 2005 storm, are now at least 10 yards offshore, even during low tide cycles.
On Nov. 26, the county legislature approved a $1.2 million “living shoreline” project to stabilize the bluff at the point. County Executive Steve Bellone, who requested the resolution approving the project, which will be financed by bonding, signed the measure on Dec. 5.
The county plans to install three rock sills in tidal wetlands at the site. Clean, upland sand will be placed landward of the rock sills and planted with native, salt-tolerant vegetation.
The bluff in the tidal wetlands adjacent area will be further stabilized with the installation of a cantilevered bulkhead covered with clean sand and planted with native grasses.
The project requires permits from the State Department of Environmental Conservation: excavation and fill in navigable waters and tidal wetlands permits and a Clean Water Act Water Quality Certification.
“The county had been dumping $30,000 worth of sand there every year, but it doesn’t do any good in the long run,” County Legislator Al Krupski said.
Krupski, a longtime Southold Town trustee, recently sponsored a resolution to establish a sea level rise and coastal erosion task force to make make recommendations for dealing with those two pressing issues. He is generally opposed to the construction of any type of shoreline hardening structures — like bulkheads, sea walls and jetties.
Shoreline hardening structures usually result in loss of habitat and ecosystem function, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Green infrastructure like living shorelines are sustainable alternatives to shoreline hardening structures and are beneficial to the environment.
In an interview last week, Krupski said he will be meeting with the county public works department, which is overseeing the Indian Island project, to make sure the county is not overbuilding any shoreline structures.
But the county must protect the sacred burial site, Krupski said. “It’s important to not let it get washed into the sea.”
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