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Army Corps releases Interim Report in NY storm surge barrier study, schedules public meetings

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released an Interim Report discussing its six conceptual plans for storm surge protections in New York Harbor. The Interim Report and a schedule of eight public meetings in March and April are part of the Corps’ New York – New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries (NYNJHAT) Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study.

The new round of public meetings begin Tuesday, March 12, in White Plains and Wednesday, March 13, in Brooklyn. See the complete schedule below.

John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain and Vice President of Advocacy, said:

“We’re glad that the Corps is responding to the public’s demand for more information and transparency in its review of storm surge protections for our region. Riverkeeper will review the Interim Report closely and report back to the public on what we learn.

We had hoped that the Corps would revamp its study and focus on solutions that protect against both storm surge and inevitable sea level rise. Unfortunately, it did not. This study has been deeply flawed from the start. The Corps was tasked to solve only half the problem: flooding caused by storm surge. Clearly, in this day and age, the Corps must confront flooding from both storms and sea level rise. The in-water barriers included in several of the Corps’ plans (one extending from Sandy Hook to Breezy Point on the Rockaway Peninsula, another across the Verrazano Narrows) would have gates that must stay mostly open for ships to pass; they would do nothing to protect against rising sea levels. In the future, we can expect New York City to flood regularly at high tide, with or without storms.

Such barriers could effectively choke off the river’s life, impeding the migration of fish and tidal flow. They are not the answer to coastal flooding.

Our region needs comprehensive, shoreline-based, evidence-based solutions. We do not need colossal in-water barriers that cost endless billions to build and operate, while failing to address sea level rise, failing to protect our communities, and permanently, critically harming the Hudson – potentially threatening its very existence as a living river.

With public meetings in March and April, it’s vital that the public stay involved. Enormous decisions are being made that will profoundly affect the health of New York Harbor, the Hudson River and surrounding communities forever. We look forward to this new round of discussion.

Riverkeeper will continue its efforts to steer this conversation toward plans that protect against flooding from sea level rise as well as storms, and away from plans that would cause such damage to the environment.

We want to ensure that the best science informs this discussion. And we will continue to insist that the potentially catastrophic impacts to the ecosystem, migratory fish and the life of the estuary are considered now – not just down the road, after a preferred plan is chosen. All of us must ensure that the environment is at the forefront in this decision.”

Riverkeeper will continue to share information, including key takeaways from the Interim Report, on our website at Riverkeeper.org/barriers.

Meeting schedule

The Corps has scheduled eight public meetings in the region. Visit the Corps’ website for more information.

• Tuesday, March 12, 5-7pm, Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave., White Plains, NY
• Wednesday, March 13, 5:30-7:30pm, South Shore Educational Complex, 6565 Flatlands Ave., Brooklyn, NY
• Tuesday, March 19, 5-7pm, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY
• Wednesday, March 27, 5-7pm, Middletown Arts Center, 36 Church St., Middletown, NJ
• Wednesday, April 3, 5-7pm, Hudson Valley Community Center, 110 Grand Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY
• Tuesday, April 9, 5-7pm, Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY
• Thursday, April 11, 5-7pm, Meadowlands Environment Center, 2 DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst, NJ
• Wednesday, April 17, 5-7pm, Hostos Community College, D Building/Savoy Manor Building, 120 East 149th St., 2nd Floor, Bronx, NY

Background

The Corps had intended to choose a preferred plan or plans by the end of 2018 as part of its New York – New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries (NYNJHAT) Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study. But a public outcry arose over the catastrophic environmental impact that massive storm surge barriers could have on the Harbor and the entire Hudson River Estuary, and the lack of public involvement. The Corps agreed to provide more information and more time for the public to assess the six plans, and to wait until Spring 2020 before deciding on a “tentatively selected plan.”

In July 2018, the Corps announced six alternative plans, several involving in-water storm surge barriers, with almost no public notice and almost no substantive information. The Corps said it was moving to “winnow down” the alternatives to one or two by fall 2018.

Since then, opposition has grown over the prospect of “hell gates” – a 5-mile barrier crossing the open water from Breezy Point to Sandy Hook, for example, or a barrier across the Verrazano Narrows. These in-water barriers, with gates that stay open for ships to pass, would do nothing to protect against flooding from sea level rise – only storm surge.

“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 formal comments to the agency.

Riverkeeper’s 72-page comment letter details numerous concerns about the impact of giant barriers on a fragile ecosystem. The reduction in the tidal flow, movement of sediment, flushing of contaminants, blockage of seasonal migration by striped bass, Atlantic sturgeon and other depleted species, and many, many other changes would have serious impacts on the Hudson River’s biologically rich, but highly sensitive ecosystem. All of these impacts would require extensive analysis. [Read the full comment letter here.]

NRDC, Sierra Club, Save the Sound, the Municipal Art Society of New York and many other groups filed comments echoing concern for the environment.

In addition:

• At least 22 communities passed formal resolutions demanding more time, information and public participation.
• A City Council resolution is pending in NYC calling on the Corps “to reconsider the proposals … to include consideration of sea rise in addition to storm surge.”
• 3,946 groups and individuals sent comments to the Corps. The Corps granted two extensions of the public “scoping” period, which ran from mid-July through November 5.
• In November, the Corps approved 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.

More information

Visit Riverkeeper.org/barriers

Contact: Leah Rae, lrae@riverkeeper.org, (914) 478-4501 ext. 238

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