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Army Corps to release report Feb. 19 in NY storm barrier study

In response to public demands for transparency, Corps promises ‘interim report’ in study of anti-flooding plans for New York Harbor.

Riverkeeper, community groups & thousands of individuals voice opposition to ‘hell gates’ that would permanently harm the Hudson River ecosystem.

In response to demands for transparency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is promising to release a report Feb. 19, followed by public meetings in March and April, to provide further information on six conceptual plans for storm surge protections in New York Harbor.

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 wait until Spring 2020 before deciding on a “tentatively selected plan.”

In July 2018, the Corps announced six alternative plans, several involving 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 $140 billion, 5-mile barrier crossing the open water from the Rockaways 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.

The 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 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 municipalities passed formal resolutions demanding more time, information and public participation.
  • A 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. There were 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.

In a news release this month, the Corps promised to provide “preliminary costs, benefits and environmental considerations, and to identify data gaps, key uncertainties, and factors that warrant further investigation.” [Read the release here.]

“We look forward to receiving real information from the Corps,” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain and Vice President of Advocacy. “So far all we have are a few images in the Corps’ PowerPoints. We hope the report will include the initial cost estimates, preliminary barrier designs, environmental studies, flooding models, and other data. Riverkeeper and the public need to see the data the Corps is using, so we can do our own analysis.”

More information:

Riverkeeper’s latest blog post: Thousands stand up to defend the river in storm surge barrier study

Riverkeeper information page:

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