‘Not Business As Usual’
Calling Sandy, the storm that ravaged Rockaway and hundreds of miles of other coastline areas a “250 year storm,” Dan Falt, project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers, said Rockaway was “not forgotten” and would be getting “more protection than it has in years.”
Falt, presenting as a guest of Community Board 14 faced a packed auditorium at Scholar’s Academy Tuesday evening. Acknowledging that Rockaway was severely impacted as a result of Sandy, Falt said there would be relatively quick government action and that “this is not business as usual and I really mean that when I say it.”
To put Sandy in perspective, Falt gave a historical overview of storms through the past 112 years. He called Sandy an “outlier” in its strength noting that a 32.5 foot wave, the biggest ever in these parts, was recorded at the entrance of the New York Harbor. By comparison, Hurricane Irene’s top wave was 26 feet.
Outlier or not, the recent disaster has triggered new action by the Army Corps of Engineers. Plans call for short term measures —a rehabilitation stage involving sand replenishment– and the longer term, the Reformulation Plan, that will be a much more comprehensive approach to coastal protection.
The short term is not an all-peninsula inclusive plan. Short term means putting more sand on the beach as quickly as possible from Beach 16th to Beach 149th street. The short term fix does not include Breezy Point, or the very east end of Rockaway, those blocks east of Beach 16th street. Nor do the short term plans address erosion or other matters on the bay side, including Broad Channel.
This particular stretch, Beach 16th to Beach 149th street, was authorized to be replenished by Congress in 1974. In effect, the short term plans are a resumption of the authorization (though modified in 1994). Falt said, because the Army Corps of Engineers follows directives from Congress, it has no authority to expand its scope in the short term.
Rockaway lost 1.5 million cubic yards of sand because of the storm. Falt said that much would be replaced and more. The short term plan calls for returning the beach to “design conditions” (the 1994 revised Congressional plan) which will allow the Army Corps to build a beach 10 feet above sea level and 100 feet wide.
Falt said the execution of the plan would take between 4 and 6 months with a targeted start date of this June. He could not guarantee a June start because contractors still have to be selected before scheduling could be determined. “I wish I could say this could start tomorrow,” he said, adding again, “This is not business as usual.” Falt said this rehabilitation stage does not require a study and “will get done.” Still, he cautioned, environmental regulations would be followed. Although confident that the plans – both short and long term – would proceed quickly he acknowledges that the Army Corps has non-Federal partners to collaborate with including the New York City Parks Department, the New York Department of State, and the New York Department of Environmental Control and that there could be bureaucratic challenges.
In the rehabilitation stage, new sand will be pumped from the inlets and offshore areas and be tested to make sure it is clean and consistent with the sand already on Rockaway beaches. He expects beaches with the most urgent need of sand to be the first to receive new sand. The replenishment process will take place during the summer season but beaches will not close although stretches of 1000 feet of shoreline will be off limits for 3 to 4 days at a time as sand is pumped.
As for the long term project, the Reformulation Study, Falt said “funding should no longer be an issue” and that it will be an accelerated process. He said the new build was an “immense opportunity” and the new design would be done right and be “one for our kids.” The Reformulation Study will be underway even as the rehabilitation project moves forward and will be a transparent process. Although relying on a report from the early 2000’s that was 75 percent done, the new study will incorporate lessons learned from the Sandy disaster. The alternatives considered in coastal protection, Falt said, would not be done “behind closed doors.” The community would be informed and allowed input.
At this point, the primary goals in the study are matters involving longtime shoreline erosion; inundation (what happens with flooding); wave attack (what waves can do to structures on the beachfront); and other areas including Breezy Point, Jamaica Bay, Broad Channel, and Howard Beach.
Beach stabilization will be a goal. There are several alternatives which include groins (usually called jetties); tgroins (as the name suggests, a t-groin is a jettie shaped like a letter “T”); the removal of groins (which might allow for a different kind of sand management); breakwaters (essentially jetties that run parallel to the shore) and sand management (a scientific approach to managing sand build up).
Beach armoring. This topic includes other considerations including dunes, reinforced dunes (rock, hesco barriers and sea walls buried within dunes); tidal closure gates; raising roads; traditional seawalls and bulkheads.
The study will include a cost and benefits analysis as well. Falt concluded his presentation by saying the overall goal is to put in place measures that are sustainable and reliable.
As for when the Reformulation Study will “move from paper to construction” as Community Board Chair Dolores Orr asked, Falt said “at least a year.” In the meantime, Falt reiterated, the short term replenishment will give Rockaway beaches far more sand than it had had.
The Question and Answer period that followed was marked by bursts of frustration and anger. Many in the crowd demanded the immediate installation of rock jetties; some demanded a more immediate start date than June for beach replenishment. Joe Hartigan, a community advocate, recommended the implementation of temporary jetties, using a product called Geo-tubes. Falt acknowledged that such a step might be effective but added that interim measures—other than beach replenishment— are not allowed by the current law the Army Corps must follow. Congress would have to act for the Corps to do more than what has already been directed. As for traditional jetties, favored by many in the crowd, he said they might very well be a good solution not a final solution. They trap sand but “they don’t stop storm surges.” The solutions are likely to be multipronged.
While the news is ostensibly about plans for the beach, part of the story is the engaged Rockaway community. The crowds at meetings have been large and sometimes overflowing. Frustration and anger are regularly demonstrated. It is a community raw with emotion and not ready to be patient with bureaucracy and uncertainty.