Tropical Storm Elsa's rains flooded Sound Avenue in Wading River July 9, 2021. File photo: Peter Blasl

Several communities on the East End have been designated as “disadvantaged” and would be targeted in New York State’s effort to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and invest in clean energy and energy efficiency, according to state draft criteria up for public review.

The census-tract communities of Calverton, Riverhead, downtown Riverhead, Riverside, Northampton, Flanders, Greenport Village,Tuckahoe; and Westhampton Beach have been recognized by the state as areas on the East End that would be targeted by provisions of the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Thirty-five percent of the census tracts in New York were identified as disadvantaged communities. To be identified as disadvantaged, the census tracts must be ranked high relative to other communities in two criteria categories: “Environmental and Climate Change Burdens and Risks” and “Population Characteristics and Health Vulnerabilities” or very high in only one category. 

The draft criteria also identify communities based on the number of low-income households for the purposes of identifying investments for clean energy and energy efficiency programs. The criteria also take into account the community’s racial and ethnic minorities.

New York’s Climate Justice Working Group released the draft disadvantaged communities criteria in December. Public comments for the draft criteria opened March 9 and will end on July 7. Eleven public hearings to receive public input on the draft criteria are scheduled over May and June. The public hearing for Long Island is scheduled on Wednesday, May 18 at 6 p.m. via WebEx. More details about the hearings can be found on the DEC’s website.

Along with the draft criteria, the working group published an interactive map of disadvantaged communities according to the criteria that outlines based on percentile.

Riverhead is in the 79th percentile of tracts with environmental burden and 75th percentile of tracts with population vulnerability. The tract has a high potential climate change risk due to a large amount of agricultural land use, and inland and coastal flooding risk. The tract is in the high percentile when it comes to population health impacts and burdens, and vulnerabilities based on income.

Downtown Riverhead is in the 87th percentile of tracts with population vulnerability and 69th percentile of tracts with environmental burden. The area has a high population with health risks and is in the 98th percentile when it comes to people without health insurance. The population is also identified as having lower income status and high home cost burdens. The area ranks high on environmental burden indicators like inland and coastal flooding risk, low vegetative land cover, and high wastewater discharge.

Calverton is in the 86th percentile of tracts with environmental burden and 67th percentile of population vulnerability. The population ranks in the 99th percentile of people age 65 and over and ranks high in health burdens and risks. The population is also in the 70th percentile of people without health insurance. The area also has high cost burdens related to housing and energy, and is in the 99th percentile when it comes to having manufactured homes. 

The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton census tract is in the 83th percentile of environmental burden and 74% percentile of population vulnerability in the state. The population has a higher number of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart attack hospitalization — and a higher population of people without health insurance — than the statewide population. The area also has a high rate of environmental remediation sites and a high amount of locations with inland flooding risk.

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires the state to achieve a carbon-free electricity system by 2040 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85% below 1990 levels by 2050. It mandates investment into clean energy solutions such as wind, solar, energy efficiency and energy storage.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]