The city opened the bidding process last week as it moves forward with a long-awaited $12.5 million bulkhead project along Reynolds Channel to help protect against major storms and flooding.
In a letter to residents, officials said the city had received “all requisite permits from the regulatory agencies and authorization from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery” to launch the procurement process on Aug. 8.
“We received all the approvals, and we hope to start [work] in November,” Public Works Commissioner John Mirando said.
The plan to protect the bayfront with bulkheading, identified as a priority by Long Beach’s Community Reconstruction Program planning committee after Hurricane Sandy, was approved by the state in 2014, and was the committee’s top priority, taking up about half of the $25 million in federal money granted for the CRP.
The project covers bulkheads along public property at the north end of streets in the West End, from Magnolia to Laurelton boulevards, as well as two of the city’s three canals, on Heron and Doyle streets. The third canal will be covered by capital funds.
“The purpose of this project is to improve the existing bulkheads in the project area, thus protecting the city during future storm events and improving its overall storm resiliency,” the city said in the letter.
The bids are due on Sept. 5, and the City Council is expected to award the project in September or October.
Homeowners who live along the bay suffered some of the worst damage in Sandy, and the weakened bulkheads potentially put them and their neighbors at risk for future flood damage.
“The storm showed the inadequacy of the existing bulkheads, which are too low or non-existent, to provide protection from major storms,” the CRP plan stated.
Funding was initially earmarked for the replacement and elevation of bulkheads along the entire north shore, including private property. But the project hit a snag in 2017 after officials said the estimated cost of the work more than doubled to $28 million, forcing the city to revise the plan. Officials said the consulting firm provided by the state underestimated the amount of bulkheading required for the project.
To help homeowners rebuild their bulkheads, the council passed a measure in 2017 to help fund individual projects, whose cost can exceed $30,000. The initiative allows the city to obtain permits, hire contractors and finance the construction, and residents are required to pay back the cost through a tax surcharge over 20 years. To date, Mirando said 25 homeowners have applied, and the city is working out financing issues.
Still, installation of bulkheads along public property, in addition to a separate, $20 million project to protect the city’s critical infrastructure and surrounding neighborhoods along Reynolds Channel — financed entirely by state and federal funds and expected to be completed in the fall of 2021 — will provide greater protection in an area that has largely been without it.
“While this project isn’t going to resolve all our bayside flooding vulnerabilities, it is a step in the right direction,” City Council Vice President John Bendo said. “A fully comprehensive bayfront protection plan will have to be a collaborative effort between the residents, city, county, state and federal governments.”
“As we look at it now post-Sandy, there’s no silver bullet, so what you need to do is try to take a shot and use whatever money the city can for our protection as best we can,” added Kevin Reilly, vice president of the North East Bay and Canal Civic Association and co-founder of Long Beach Rising, a Facebook page that provides storm victims with information and resources.
“The city is trying their best to do outreach to try and manage expectations with these folks,” he continued, “and I think they’re doing a pretty good job.”
The heights of the existing bulkheads, Reilly said, range from two to three feet above the street. According to the city, the proposed height of the new bulkheads is nine to 10 feet above sea level, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s minimum requirement for communities in a 100-year flood plain. Still, officials said that the heights would vary depending on a home’s location.
“In some cases, it will be significantly higher,” Reilly said. “But they’re kind of mandated to build like we’re in a flood plain because we are in a flood plain.”
At a meeting on Aug. 5 at City Hall to update residents, Mirando and other officials said that homes that parallel the project area with structures along the water potentially obstructing the work, such as docks, decks or stairs, would have to be removed at homeowners’ expense, since the city is prohibited from using public funds for private property.
“In the Canal area, all obstructions within five feet of the landward (east side) of the bulkhead must be removed as well,” the city said in its letter. “In the West Bay Drive area, anything affixed to the bulkhead must be removed within five feet (north and south) of the structure.”
“The type of bulkhead . . . uses a helical pile driven in from the water side, so the disruptions to the property should be minimal,” Mirando said. “A lot of the neighbors have built docks and decks that have to be moved on public property. There’s a dozen that never got original permits from the [Department of Environmental Conservation] or Army Corps of Engineers, so they’re going to have to get a permit and do it legally,” after the project is completed.
He added, “What we told residents at the meeting was, don’t panic yet, because once we get the bids back, if it comes in under the $12 million, the contractor . . . will be able to determine what needs to be moved and what doesn’t.”