Blogs > Ecology > Thousands stand up to defend the river in storm surge barrier study

Thousands stand up to defend the river in storm surge barrier study

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In response to drastic Army Corps plans for coastal storm protections in NY Harbor, individuals & communities have sent a resounding message: No to ‘hell gates,’ yes to a better approach. See what we’ve accomplished, and stay involved.

The public came out for the river again.

After Riverkeeper raised the alarm, thousands of people, partner groups and communities joined us this year in speaking out against the idea of building massive storm surge barriers in New York Harbor that would cause permanent harm to the Hudson and Harbor – “hell gates,” as they came to be known. Together we delivered the message that our region needs comprehensive, land-based, evidence-based solutions to coastal flooding – not half measures that fail to grapple with sea level rise, fail to protect our communities and choke the life out of our rivers.

We’ve made significant strides, winning more time to weigh the options and more money for a complete review. What would have been a little-noticed and narrowly defined discussion on storm protection became a resounding public outcry: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must start over.

“The Corps must slow its pace, fix the flawed process, and seek to protect New Yorkers from both storm surge and sea level rise in a way that allows our rivers to run free,” Riverkeeper wrote in its formal comments to the agency last month.

What’s next? Stay tuned. We expect a new round of public discussion in early 2019, and your participation is essential. Sign up for email alerts and bookmark our information page: Riverkeeper.org/barriers.

Here’s what we’ve accomplished since July, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a comment period on its New York – New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries (NYNJHAT) Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study:

Public input. Despite an abysmal effort by the Corps to gather public input on its six alternative plans for storm protection, thousands of people filed comments – more than 2,000 through Riverkeeper’s website alone. The Corps said it received comment or input from 3,946 different sources. We won two extensions of the public “scoping” comment period, which ran from mid-July through November 5. We turned out hundreds of people to the Corps’ three-day series of public meetings, despite almost no advance notice by the Corps, and won the time needed for a few additional meetings to take place.

Comments by Riverkeeper. In a 72-page comment letter to the Corps, Riverkeeper called for a complete overhaul of this deeply flawed study process, and outlined some of the numerous, far-reaching environmental impacts that require a thorough review.

Comments by allied groups. Allies like Scenic Hudson, Save the Sound, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and Sierra Club also filed extensive comments echoing concern for the environment.

Community resolutions. At least 22 Hudson Valley communities passed formal resolutions demanding more time, information and public participation since the Corps presented the six options to the public in July with barely any notice. Another resolution is pending in NYC. calling on the Corps “to reconsider the proposals … to include consideration of sea rise in addition to storm surge.”

Timetable. The Corps agreed to allow more time and transparency before advancing any of its six plans – another 15 months – instead of following an initial timetable that called for the selection of one or two finalists by now. We may finally get real, substantive information before that decision is made.

The Corps cleared one of its bureaucratic limitations with a waiver that will allow more resources for the overall coastal storm protection study, increasing its spending cap from $6 million to $19.4 million.

Note: the Corps still plans to finalize its choice by 2022, compressing the timeline for review, even though the decision has profound implications for the river and its life and directly affects more than 900 miles of waterfront in three different states, and 16 million people. Members of the public had expected that the waiver would allow for more time before the Corps would send its final recommendation to Congress. That’s not the case. So, the waiver allows for more money, but not the time needed to make a final recommendation. The process is still moving too quickly.

Riverkeeper is continuing to press for further changes.

Note that the Corps’ process, at this stage, explicitly leaves out environmental impacts as a factor in selecting a plan. It relies instead on a strict cost-benefit analysis. And the Corps is altogether failing to grapple with future sea level rise flooding – it’s considering giant, costly sea barriers based on a myopic mission limited to storm damage risk.

In our comments, Riverkeeper details numerous concerns about the impact of giant barriers on a fragile ecosystem. Changes in the tidal flow, movement of sediment, flushing of contaminants and many, many other conditions could have serious impacts on Hudson River’s biologically rich, but highly sensitive ecosystem. All of these impacts would require extensive analysis.

Excerpts:

“Sediment transport and tidal mixing are the most fundamental drivers of the Hudson River ecosystem. Sediments are foundational in the river’s food chain and are ecological drivers of processes unique to the Hudson River. The foundation of the food web in the Hudson is critically important, as the river is a migration corridor for a number of diadromous and amphidromous fish species, many of which are in a state of dramatic decline.”

“Neither the ecosystem as a whole, nor many of the individual constituent species’ populations, is in a healthy state. Rather, the estuary is in a state of flux, with temperatures increasing; dissolved oxygen decreasing; invasive species increasing, while carrying diseases and expanding their range; community shifts from more southern species; and indigenous species both increasing and decreasing. Habitat destruction, altered habitat, [low-oxygen] conditions, and temperature change are leading factors that threaten species’ survival in the Hudson.”

“The physical environment is the foundation upon which the biological world is built, and so the Corps must consider potential, even minute changes in temperature and oxygen levels in the estuary as having profound consequences for its ability to support life.”

With an “interim report” promised by the Corps in early 2019, we will learn more and determine the next steps needed to protect our river and our communities. With the public remaining deeply involved, we can prevail as this process goes forward.

Read our entire comment letter here.

Read comments by other environmental groups, Hudson Valley communities and elected officials here.

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