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Army Corps seeks funding

Agency says back bays study is set to expire in September

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Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said at a June 27 public meeting in Long Beach that they were seeking an extension to continue a $3 million study of ways to protect communities against future storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Officials said that funding for the study — which began in September 2016 to investigate how to reduce the risk of coastal erosion, storm surge, flooding and severe winds, all of which were seen during Sandy — is set to expire in September if an extension is not granted by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, which oversees the Army Corps’ civil works programs.

The Army Corps and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation hosted the public meeting at Long Beach City Hall, where they detailed the Nassau County Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study and stressed the need for an extension.

The Army Corps’ standard policy is to complete studies within three years and at a cost of $3 million or less, but the agency said it needed an additional $6 million due to the size and complexities of the study area. The study must consider past, current and future coastal storm risks, officials said.

“We’ve asked for more time and more money for the study,” said Scott Sanderson, the corps’ project manager. “We have requested an extension until April 2022, which would be worth $6 million.”

September will mark three years since the signing of a cost-sharing agreement between theDEC and the Army Corps to launch the study. The Nassau back bays — Hewlett, Middle, Jones and South Oyster bays and associated creeks and channels — were identified as high-risk regions that warranted an in-depth investigation.

The study is examining 30 miles of Long Island’s southern shoreline, primarily in Nassau County but also in parts of Queens and Suffolk County, to determine the feasibility of a project to reduce the risk of coastal storm damage. During Sandy, many communities along Reynolds Channel, including the Canals and West End, suffered some of the worst damage.

Sanderson presented certain solutions at the meeting, including floodwalls, levees, surge barriers, cross bay barriers and “living shorelines” — protected coastal edges made from plants or rocks. He also said the government could buy out homes that are repeatedly damaged by storms and flooding. And he discussed the need for the Army Corps to develop a plan that would justify the cost of an implemented solution and would also be environmentally efficient.

The Army Corps released a status report in April outlining possible resiliency measures, but since then, Sanderson said, the agency has explored the possibility of surge barriers by the East Rockaway, Jones and Fire Island inlets, as well as a potential cross-bay barrier from Jones Beach to the mainland. However, Sanderson said it is still too early to say which solution would best fit the area.

Future projects identified by the study are intended to work in conjunction with other resiliency measures that are currently underway along the South Shore, Sanderson said. For instance, Long Beach is implementing a $20 million bulkhead project to protect the city’s critical infrastructure and surrounding neighborhoods along Reynolds Channel, which is expected to be completed by the fall of 2021. A separate, $12.5 million bulkhead project is in the works to protect the city’s public shoreline along the bay, using Community Reconstruction Program funding.

If the additional funding for the study is approved, Sanderson said, the Army Corps would have more time to complete its study of the area and find alternative solutions that could benefit back-bay communities. The extension would give the Army Corps until April 2022 to release its final report. At that point, the findings would be submitted to Congress for review. Sanderson said he was uncertain how long Congress would take to approve the study.

Some residents, however, said the study was taking too long and expressed concerns about the next big storm as well as routine flooding. East Rockaway resident Donna Shannon said that protecting the area was urgent.

“When we get a storm here, I can’t go out,” she said. “You’re sitting in the house. You’re waiting for all the tides to recede, and then during any high tide, there is no wall. There is no bulkhead. There is absolutely nothing protecting the streets or properties in this area.”

Shannon added that her home was elevated 14 feet, but water still seeps underneath its foundation. “If they can’t continue the study, we’re doomed,” she said. “My main concern is that some of the answers are still so up in the air.”

Long Beach residents like James Kirklin said they wondered how future projects would impact the beach side of the city.

“If they’re only going to fortify the area on the north side of the bay,” Kirklin said, “it makes it imperative that the bulkheads on the north side need to be in good shape, because when the water comes in, then it’s going to come in from the other side.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, stressed the importance of the study and a proper plan. “For Congress to want to fund it, there has to be an Army Corps-approved plan, and if we miss the window for having a good plan, there may never be another window for the type of investment we’re talking about,” Kaminsky said. “We don’t know enough yet what we will do for every community, but the fact that we have to have a plan — to me is essential.”