News > News > Storm Surge Barriers > Senate and House agree to major improvements in coastal flood prevention study for NY-NJ region

Senate and House agree to major improvements in coastal flood prevention study for NY-NJ region

Riverkeeper applauds modifications to Army Corps study on flood and storm surge risk; Water infrastructure bill prioritizes sea level rise planning, nature-based solutions, environmental protection and environmental justice

In response to demands from the public, Congress has agreed on significant improvements to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study on coastal flood protections for the New York – New Jersey region.

Provisions in a sweeping infrastructure bill, the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, address a number of major flaws in the NY/NJ Harbor and Tributaries (NYNJHAT) Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study. A jointly agreed-upon version of the bill won a House vote today and will go to a Senate vote soon.

The legislation includes important language from Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney’s Hudson River Climate Change Protection Act (H.R. 7220) aiming to modernize the 1955 statute that governs the Corps study. Riverkeeper worked closely with Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Sean Patrick Maloney and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to ensure these provisions were included.

“Our sincerest thanks and congratulations to Sean Patrick Maloney and Nydia Velázquez for helping to design this new WRDA bill and to Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand for their excellent work to shepherd it forward in the Senate. Thanks to these savvy and dedicated legislative leaders, we can look forward to more creative, comprehensive solutions, more community consultation and a new focus on ecological restoration, as we work to get out in front of the threats posed by climate change. WRDA is simply a huge step forward on these issues,” said Paul Gallay, Hudson Riverkeeper.

Specifically, the legislation:

  • modifies the study to evaluate and address the impacts of low-frequency precipitation and sea level rise – not just storm surge;
  • mandates consultation with affected communities;
  • requires the Army Corps to evaluate nature-based alternatives in flood protection, and calculate their “long-term costs and benefits” if such features are not included in the recommended plan;
  • requires an update in Army Corps policies for evaluating impacts to environmental justice and disadvantaged communities, and providing for community notice, consultation, and engagement.

These changes will support Riverkeeper’s and our partners’ efforts to ensure any projects evaluated for the region include best-available science and take into consideration the value of nature-based resiliency projects, such as oyster reefs, wetlands and other natural features, and not just structural alternatives.

“With this legislation, we have a chance to get it right,” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain and Vice President of Advocacy. “In its first incarnation, the Corps’ study failed to consider future flooding from increasing sea level rise. And it completely disregarded the enormous, permanent harm that many of its potential projects would have caused to the Hudson and the environment. We now have a chance to protect our communities and our infrastructure from both storms and sea level rise – without sacrificing the Hudson.”

“Riverkeeper is grateful for the leadership of Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney and Nydia Velázquez and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten GIllibrand in securing improvements to fully incorporate sea-level rise in the Army Corps’ studies to protect New Yorkers,” said Jeremy Cherson, Legislative Advocacy Manager for Riverkeeper. “These changes can help ensure that as we confront the challenges of climate change together, we will not sacrifice the health of the Hudson River or leave disadvantaged communities behind.”

Background

In 2018, Riverkeeper raised the alarm over numerous, fundamental flaws in the Army Corps of Engineers’ study on the risk of coastal storm damage to the New York – New Jersey region. The Corps considered six options, several of which involved massive, costly, in-water storm surge barriers throughout New York Harbor. Such barriers – made of walls, gates and artificial islands – could cause catastrophic, irreparable damage to the Hudson while leaving communities vulnerable to ever-increasing, daily flooding from sea level rise. The NY/NJ Harbor and Tributaries (NYNJHAT) Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study affects 25 counties in New York and New Jersey and encompasses the Raritan, Passaic and Hackensack rivers in New Jersey, the Hudson River up to Troy, the Meadowlands and Jamaica Bay.

Riverkeeper, its allies and communities throughout the Hudson Valley called for solutions that address both storm surge and sea level rise; more transparency and community engagement, and full consideration of the potentially devastating environmental impacts of storm surge barriers. (More information at Riverkeeper.org/barriers.)

In February, the Corps abruptly announced that the $19 million study was indefinitely postponed. Funding for the study, in the Army Corps’ 2020 work plan, was suspended.

Riverkeeper will work with our partners and elected leaders to ensure the study receives funding from Army Corps leadership or by the direction of Congress. We will be calling on President-elect Biden to work with Congress to ensure this important work can proceed.

Contact: Leah Rae, Riverkeeper Media Specialist, lrae@riverkeeper.org

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