by Char Weigel –
On February 19, the Army Corps of Engineers released its interim report on the Storm Surge Barrier project (“NY & NJ Harbor & Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study”). The report updates the Corps’ response to a request from Congress for proposals to protect regional coasts from storm surge. The Corps received 4,250 public comments last fall on six proposed alternatives, and has extended the study timeline to allow additional public outreach and input.
The Corps’ proposals have far-reaching implications for coastal communities including the rivertowns. The alternatives range from a five-mile barrier stretching from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Breezy Point, New York, to floodwalls, levees, seawalls and elevated promenades (with specific impact identified for Tarrytown’s RiverWalk Park), to locally driven solutions for resilient shorelines. Rivertowns residents can ask questions and provide input on Tuesday, March 12 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Westchester County Center.
The alternatives differ in their cost, impact on river navigation, protection from rising sea levels versus storm surge, impact on birds, fish and other wildlife, restriction to tidal movement, and other factors. The proposals are complex, and the sheer amount of information is overwhelming. Questions likely to be raised on March 12 include who would be protected by massive engineering projects such as the five-mile outer barrier system? What would be the navigational, environmental and ecological impact on the Hudson River from barriers? Is it possible to mitigate the impact on neighboring communities when closed barriers divert storm surge? Will unaddressed damage from rising sea levels mean that any barriers are a wasted expense?
County Executive George Latimer has asked whether a thoughtful series of smaller local actions would make better sense. New York state taxpayers will fund much of the construction and likely all of the ongoing operation and maintenance regardless of the chosen approach, so a centrally planned option may not mean lower local tax burdens.
One alternative relies solely on locally driven responses. As residents consider providing feedback to the Corps, they may want to ask whether their village’s comprehensive plan overtly addresses rising sea levels and storm surge by strengthening coastline resilience. They may also want to evaluate whether rising sea levels are addressed as part of future local development plans.
The report describes the lower Hudson region as a unique nursery and overwintering area for striped bass, and the spawning area for two federally listed endangered species, the shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon. It highlights the importance of the rivertowns’ area for winter feeding and roosting for bald eagles as well as the significant recreational and commercial boating activity in the lower Hudson River. The March 12 meeting is an opportunity to ask about the impact of the various alternatives on these features of life in the rivertowns. If you are unable to attend the meeting, but would like to receive updates, email NYNJHarbor.TribStudy@usace.army.mil. The interim report is available at https://www.nan.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Projects-in-New-York/New-York-New-Jersey-Harbor-Tributaries-Focus-Area-Feasibility-Study/.