Nearly seven years after Superstorm Sandy struck on a late-October night, Long Island communities are still rebuilding. Homes are up in the air, suspended by stilts, waiting for foundations to be poured. Others were abandoned, and have remained vacant ever since, rotting away.
Long Islanders are reminded of the ruination Sandy caused each hurricane season, which extends from June 1 through the end of October, peaking in mid-September. In total, Sandy caused an estimated $65 billion in damage along the Eastern Seaboard.
Much has been done to harden the South Shore, especially in Long Beach, where a $230 million coastal protection project carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers significantly widened the beach and created a new dune to protect against storm surge. And the boardwalk was rebuilt with hardwood, rather than pine, to ensure that it won’t be blown apart again. The $44 million project was paid for with federal, state and city funds.
Too many such projects have not been started, however. According to the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, 98 NY Rising projects are now “within various stages of implementation in the Long Island region, including 68 in Nassau County and 29 in Suffolk County.” What precisely GOSR means by “various stages” is unclear. The most recent regional newsletter on the GOSR website is from August 2017. It speaks of emergency backup generators and drainage projects, but we have heard little to nothing about these projects since, except in the hardest-hit areas like Long Beach and Freeport.
GOSR needs to publish an updated newsletter letting people know precisely what’s going on.
At the federal level, an Army Corps of Engineers study of ways to increase resiliency in the South Shore bays between Jones and East Rockaway inlets — for which $3 million has already been spent — must be completed. That study, called the Nassau County Back Bays Study, is set to expire Sept. 30.
According to officials, Army Corps studies are usually completed in under three years, for less than $3 million. This study, however, was too complex and too broad to do so in that time frame for that amount of money. So the study must carry on.
The Army Corps should approve the $6.1 million extension of the study before it expires. It is examining a variety of flood mitigation measures, including tidal gates at Jones and East Rockaway inlets, and the possible environmental impacts of such projects. If extended, the Final Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement should be complete by January 2022, with a Chief of Engineers Report by April of that year.
If the study is allowed to expire without final answers — that is, solutions to the flooding caused by storm surge — $3 million of federal tax dollars will be wasted, and more important, Long Islanders won’t get an answer to the crucial question of how to stop — or at least slow — the ocean in a hurricane.
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy has been a relentless proponent of tidal gates at Jones and East Rockaway inlets. He points to New Bedford, Mass., which built tidal gates at an inlet there in 1961 to hold back the ocean during a hurricane, and so far, so good — the city has seen no damaging flooding since then. Kennedy visited New Bedford in April 2018 with other local elected officials to see the tidal gates firsthand, and he returned with a renewed desire to see them built. The project, he said, could take up to six years to complete, so the sooner Long Island could begin such a project, the better, he noted.
“Think about all the money we spent with all of the insurance companies” after Sandy, Kennedy said in 2018. With “the loss of economic development with the commercial and industrial businesses, the insurance rates have skyrocketed and the house values have gone down. Let’s get something like this done and make it better for everybody in Nassau County.”
The Army Corps is also proposing “living shorelines” — strengthening them with indigenous plants and large rocks where needed. Living shorelines restore natural habitats that have been lost to development over the past 50 to 100 years. Nature itself is used to withstand hurricanes, which is precisely the approach that is needed on the South Shore.
Unbelievably, nearly seven years have passed since Hurricane Sandy. Now, not later, is the time to get Long Island’s resiliency projects going — and done.