2013-06-28 / Front Page

IT DEPENDS

Mayor’s Plan For Rockaway
By Kevin Boyle

Shortly after Sandy rolled over New York, Mayor Bloomberg assembled a team to study the impacts of the storm and prepare a report that would address the challenges the city faces as rising sea levels and climate change inevitably shape the future.

On June 14th, The Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) team revealed a 438 page report titled “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” The comprehensive report offers history, socioeconomic overview, and best-guess forecasting. A lot of the report is common knowledge:

Sandy caused historic devastation and the challenges of accommodating rising sea levels and extreme weather are enormous.

The report considered a myriad of issues that were brought front and center because of Sandy and need attention going forward. Full chapters were devoted to healthcare, building regulations, telecommunications, waste management, insurance, utilities, and transportation.

The report offers some 250 “initiatives” to make New York as resilient as possible. Many of these initiatives, however, are “subject to available funding” and dependent upon a new administration’s acceptance and commitment to the goals set forth in the report. The Bloomberg administration, with fewer than 200 days left in its term, will seek to begin as many of the presented initiatives in 2013 as possible but the expiring clock makes the success of the report largely reliant on Bloomberg’s successor.

In addition to the chapters set aside for the broad topics listed above, the SIRR report addressed the issues of five areas of the city most affected by Sandy. Rockaway was included in the section called “South Queens.” Other areas included Staten Island, the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront, Southern Brooklyn, and Southern Manhattan.

The SIRR report acknowledged that various protection measures over decades have had starts and stops and other proposals continue to be offered by scientists, engineers, and others. The Bloomberg administration prefers a piecemeal or localized approach – as opposed to one grand fix such as a gate from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Breezy Point as some have suggested.

The report lays out several protection strategies and alternatives and then lists the areas in which such steps make the most sense. For example, the City suggests dune protection for parts of Staten Island and Rockaway but not lower Manhattan. Sea walls and levees are suggested remedies for parts of the City but not for Rockaway. And so forth.

The City is considering or committing to a variety of measures to protect Rockaway. Beach replenishment is one. Bulkheads along Beach Channel Drive is another. Revetments (large stones), also, –examples can be seen now at the foot of the Marine Parkway Bridge and on the bay side of Breezy Point Beach – may be used at other areas on the bay side. Offshore breakwaters, which could lessen or attenuate wave action, is another measure being considered. Such breakwaters could be built with rock or heavy materials (some have suggested old subway cars) and would eventually become natural habitats for oysters and other sea life. The breakwaters, more or less, run parallel to the coastline (as opposed to jetties which run perpendicular).

Dunes and groins are being considered for Rockaway. The merits of a double dune system were highlighted in the report. A double dune allows for a “sacrificial” dune closer to the ocean that offers some resistance and then a secondary, more robust dune with vegetation, that is constructed to hold up against flooding waters.

Groins were listed as a possible remedy but the report gave less than full-throated support for the structures that so many locals want. The report says “they (groins) can help retain sand from beach nourishment projects on-site and also serve to break waves and absorb wave energy. Groins must be carefully evaluated because they have the potential to disrupt natural sediment transport processes. With careful planning, they can serve a vital function in protecting oceanfront communities.”

On page 43 of the report there are before-and-after pictures lined side-by-side allegedly demonstrating the effectiveness of dunes in the Beach 50’s. The “after” picture shows a beach largely intact and the report suggests dunes were the reason the area did so well. It so happens that area is also a beneficiary of the groins and jetties already in place in Rockaway.

Some jetty advocates worry this is a deliberate attempt by the City to downplay the importance of groins. When asked about the report’s failure to acknowledge the effectiveness of groins in this area, an SIRR official said, “There is not a conspiracy against them on our part. That said, there are serious questions that we need to study further about whether, on balance, they are helpful or harmful. We’re not opposed to them. But, if we’re going to support more of them, we need to make sure they’re the best strategy.”

In Phase1 of its Coastal Protection Plan, the SIRR states that Rockaway is slated to get beach nourishment, bulkheads, and dunes. However, the report also lists Breezy Point as getting dunes in Phase 1. The Wave has asked the SIRR team about this. Breezy Point will only get dunes after an Army Corps of Engineer study, if then. This could take four years. And then Breezy might opt out of this because getting dunes might require Breezy to make their beaches available to the public. It’s clearly a complex issue and by putting it in “Phase 1” calls into question the readiness or importance of other initiatives. In other words, if a theoretical plan in Phase 1 is four years away, what about the initiatives that fall into Phase 2 and beyond?

Raising bulkheads on the bay side is another initiative that seems more like a hope or goal than actual plan. The report states: “Eight percent of the city’s shoreline will be at risk of daily tidal flooding by 2050. Subject to available funding, the City, therefore, will implement a program to raise bulkheads and other shoreline structures to minimize the risk of regular flooding in targeted neighborhoods, including the bayside of the Rockaway Peninsula, (and) Broad Channel…The goal is to begin the first phase of evaluations in 2013.” If the goal is merely to begin the “first phase of evaluations,” it is not unreasonable for locals to wonder if this is another study in a long line of studies that produce little change or benefit.

More definite plans are explained in other sections of the report. The floodwall on the bay has been fortified along stretches between Beach 116th Street and Beach 143rd Street. According to the report, there will be “new duckbill tide gates, or valves that block waters from entering pipes from the drainage end, while still allowing storm water to drain out.” Residents on bay blocks have long had to deal with street flooding from faulty valves.

The report addresses Beach 116th Street. “To help in the post-Sandy revival of Beach 116th Street, both for year-round residents and seasonal visitors, the City will create a detailed and comprehensive commercial revitalization plan for Beach 116th Street. This development plan will be started by NYCEDC and DCP in 2013, with completion expected in 2014.”

A similar plan is underway for Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway.

The report includes information about building requirements for homeowners and businesses alike. And another section is devoted to the potential danger of high cost flood insurance premiums to communities.

There is also a section devoted to the Neighborhood Game Changer Competition. To address the “lack of opportunities for economic advancement” in some communities, the City, through NYCEDC, will launch the CDBG-funded Neighborhood Game Changer program to invest up to $20 million in public money, including planning and administrative costs, in each of the five communities on which the SIRR highlighted. The report states that funding will be available on a competitive basis to help finance transformational projects.

Such projects could include those that: Bring transformative uses to an area’s waterfront and beaches; Establish new anchor institutions, businesses, and critical services on commercial corridors; Improve transportation access and tourism infrastructure; and attract new uses to and result in improved resiliency of public facilities.

The goal is to launch this competition in 2013.

Upon first review, many initiatives are dependent upon studies –which may or may not be funded and which may or may not take years to complete. The term “subject to available funding” is used 181 times.

Further, the plan makes clear that the successful implementation of many initiatives is dependent on what is now an unknown next mayor.

Wave readers are encouraged to have a look at the full 438 page report, available online at www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/html/report/report.shmtl

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