A pair of iron gates went up last weekend on the north side of Riverside and Rev. J.J. Evans Boulevards, in Long Beach’s North Park section, signaling that work is finally about to begin to mitigate the flooding that has plagued the largely Black neighborhood for years.
At a City Council meeting two weeks ago, the city’s public works commissioner, Joe Febrizio, said that contracts for the work had been signed and that it would begin shortly, intended to bring to an end years of flooded streets and basements in North Park.
Febrizio said that at some point in the construction process, the entire Reynolds Channel waterfront area would be closed to pedestrians and traffic. In the meantime, he said, much of the work will involve planning and engineering, and will not be visible to the public.
North Park residents have been demanding protection from flooding for years. In December, the City Council announced an agreement to end a seven-year dispute with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the construction of bulkheads to prevent water from the channel from spilling onto local streets.
The city is to receive $39 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for what is being called the North Shore Critical Infrastructure Protection Project. The bulkheads will shore up virtually the entire North Park area.
Contractors plan to install some 2,700 linear feet of cantilevered steel bulkheading to stabilize the shoreline between Monroe Boulevard and Veterans Memorial Park. A new stormwater pump station will be built at Riverside Boulevard and the bayfront, capable of clearing 4.2 million cubic feet of water every 24 hours from the area, including all of Riverside Boulevard.
Long Beach also plans to replace all city water and sewer equipment, remove an abandoned gun range and pave Water Street with new asphalt composite.
The negotiations between the city and the MTA were lengthy and often contentious, according to Long Beach officials. The MTA operates the Long Island Rail Road, whose tracks run through North Park. The MTA wanted assurances that its workers would be insured against harm during the construction work.
There was a sense of joy in North Park when the steel gates went up and residents were more confident that work would finally begin.
“The sooner the better,” said Crystal Lake, a longtime North Park resident and a leader in the effort to get the work started. “I’m happy the work is about to begin. We will all be ecstatic when it is done.”
James Hodge, another North Park resident and the former board chairman of the Martin Luther King Center, who has also been a leader in the fight for the improvements, said the start of the work was “a plus” for the area.
Hodge added that he hoped the city would provide frequent updates on the progress of the work. He and others, however, voiced unhappiness that the effort has taken so long.
“It probably would have taken even longer,” Hodge said, “if not for the advocacy of the community.”
Jackie Odom, a North Park resident who is among Long Beach’s best-known citizens, said,
“It’s always great to see progress, but it’s years behind time. It’s mixed emotions.”