City in talks with Army Corps

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The plan included dune protection against a 100-year storm for seven of the nine miles of shoreline between the Jones and East Rockaway inlets. It featured the construction of a 110-foot-wide protective berm 10 feet above sea level, backed by a system of 25-foot-wide dunes. The city’s 16 existing groins, or jetties, would be rehabilitated, and four new groins would be built at the eastern end of the island, in the Town of Hempstead.

The city’s resolution to revive the Army Corps project came shortly after Sen. Charles Schumer urged municipalities and the corps, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, to move forward with projects that have already received federal approval and don’t require years of planning. In January, Schumer said that the $60 billion federal Hurricane Sandy aid package would provide millions of dollars for dozens of long-delayed projects to protect coastal communities. The Sandy Supplemental Package, he said, includes $150 million for Long Beach. Still, Chris Gardner, a spokesman for the corps, said that its plan could take several years to complete.

In the meantime, the city has requested funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to replenish 400,000 cubic yards of sand lost in the storm. It is also talking to the corps about short-term coastal protection measures, has constructed protective sand berms and temporary dunes along the beach in the east and west ends of the city with recycled Christmas trees, and will be planting dune grass in the spring.

A number of residents say that such measures will do little to protect the city from another major storm, though city officials have said that they proved effective during last month’s blizzard and are providing protection during this week's nor-easter. Gardner said the corps is still putting together a limited evaluation report to update the agency’s plan and must deliver it to Congress before funding for the project can begin.

Schnirman and other city officials have also made it clear that a plan is needed for protection of the northern part of the barrier island, along the bay — which sustained some of the worst damage during Hurricane Sandy — as either part of an updated corps plan or a separate project. Gardner said that such a project would most likely be undertaken separately, since the project now on the table is authorized only for coastal protection.

The 2009 CP&E plan recommends construction of a floodwall beneath the boardwalk, extending the length of the structure and tying into a dune system or seawalls at both ends, while addressing flooding along the bay. But as the city calls on FEMA to fund the rebuilding of the boardwalk with more storm-resistant materials, the boardwalk and Army Corps projects may likely be initiated separately. In January, Schnirman said that merging the Army Corps and boardwalk reconstruction projects would “not get the boardwalk paid for … and we would slow down the boardwalk reconstruction by several years.”

“If the corps is not going to incorporate a seawall into the boardwalk,” said Long Beach Surfer’s Association President Billy Kupferman, “our hope is that the city does everything in its power to get funding from FEMA to incorporate that wall and communicate the planning of what is going to be built so that when the corps does its project, the dunes can mesh properly and provide maximum protection.”

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Department of Public Works Commissioner Jim LaCarrubba said that a main goal of the boardwalk reconstruction project is not to impede or interfere with the Army Corps project, and that the boardwalk plan includes a “wave break” wall to mitigate flooding.

If the city rejects the Army Corps plan, it could be on the hook for $70 million to $80 million to rebuild the beachfront because its losses are not covered by FEMA. Gardner said that the corps is putting together a limited evaluation report to update the agency’s plan, and must deliver it to Congress before the project can begin. “The project area itself has been changed by Sandy,” he said. “I mean, the coast is different, and you want to look at impacts to the project area.” He added that it was not clear when the report would be completed.

Gardner said that the Army Corps is reviewing the 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act in order to determine how funds may be spent and “make sure that we do everything correctly.”

The corps would also have to enter into a cost-sharing agreement with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the city. “Obviously, in Long Beach, public support is critical to be able to carry out the project, and of course there will be talks with the DEC and directly with Long Beach officials,” Gardner said. “They’re not starting from scratch — they’re basically saying this is what was proposed, and now we’re making sure that it’s still the best option.”

Kupferman said that flooding along the bay could no longer be ignored. “I understand that there’s a chance that bayside [protection] will not make it into this plan, but I would like to see an acknowledgement by the corps that a plan for the bayside is needed, even if it needs to be done separately,” he said. “Nobody is looking to hold up the beach from getting replenishment.”

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