Unless you’ve been hibernating this summer, you can’t help but see the Army Corps of Engineers working to rehabilitate our jetties along the beach. The federal government is spending several hundred million dollars to re-engineer the beach, from Point Lookout to the western border of Long Beach.
The purpose of the project is to provide additional protection from future storms. The first phase includes the construction on the jetties, while Phase Two involves building a system of dunes and berms along the north side of the beach, and raising the level of the beach by depositing sand taken offshore.
Another huge bonus of the project is that the Army Corps will take responsibility for maintaining the beach after it is re-engineered. If a storm hits and the beach is damaged and loses sand, the corps will be responsible for repairing and replenishing the beach. This removes a huge financial burden from Long Beach taxpayers.
We have all been inconvenienced to one degree or another by the project, walking an extra block to get to an open beach or put up with stones being hauled in and moved around. But this temporary inconvenience is a prelude to a much greater long-term benefit — a re-engineered beach that will give us much more protection during storms.
Here is something you don’t hear too often about a government-run project: The contractor is ahead of schedule. The contractor was scheduled to complete six of 15 jetties this summer. In fact, it has completed eight, and is preparing to begin work on two more. That is 67 percent ahead of schedule and, most important, affords us some additional protection this hurricane season.
Imagine our surprise when civic association leaders recently received an email from the city’s Department of Public Works saying that the city felt that enough work had been completed this summer and was telling the Army Corps to stop construction until after Labor Day. Several of us conferred, and were universally shocked by the city’s action. What were officials thinking?
Residents have been making accommodations for the work all summer, so why stop now? Who would incur the expense of stopping the work? If the city stopped the work, someone would have to pay the significant cost of having the workers and equipment sit idle. The Army Corps wasn’t going to do that.
We — including the city administration — should not lose sight of what this project is about: protecting people and property. We are victims of success, and should embrace finishing the work early — and the temporary inconvenience that goes along with it — in exchange for the benefits the additional jetties create at the peak of the hurricane season.
The four additional weeks of inconvenience are warranted, and work should continue to best ensure residents get the additional protection they need and deserve. Additionally, residents and businesses surrounding the staging areas to the east and west deserve to have the work completed ahead of schedule, allowing a return to some semblance of normalcy.
In the end, the Army Corps rejected the city’s request and chose to continue the work. But it is truly disappointing that the city administration even attempted to temporarily stop it. This is a desperately needed storm protection project, so why is the city trying to bite the hand that is feeding it? The short-term inconvenience is more than warranted if we are better protected in the future.
We have been handed a gift in this federally funded project. So, our message to the city leaders is simple — please don’t screw up this free lunch.
Editor's note: John Bendo is president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association. He is also writing on behalf of Eastholme, Westholme and the Walks, and the North East Bay and Canal civic associations.