Plans for NYC’s storm-surge barrier raise environmental concerns

Opponents argue Army Corps is moving too quickly
May 19, 2019 02:00PM

In the years since Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc on the tri-state area, city, state and federal authorities have been racing to put together plans to prevent another such disaster. But some are worried they may be moving too quickly.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been working since 2016 on a plan to help New York and New Jersey manage the risk of coastal flooding, is set to pick a “tentatively selected plan” by next January, Crain’s reported. But environmental groups say a more thorough environmental analysis is needed first.

“The idea that the corps at this point would select a plan to focus on without taking into account in a real way the environmental impacts that can happen across this estuary is a huge concern,” said Erin Doran, an attorney for environmental watchdog Riverkeeper, to Crain’s.

The plans under consideration include four possible configurations of storm-surge barriers, ranging from 1-mile-long, 22-foot-high gates north of the Verrazano-NarrowsBridge to 5-mile-long, 46-foot-high gates in the outer New York Harbor. Estimated costs range from $32 billion to $119 billion.

Opponents to the plans say some barrier configurations could disrupt fish migration and spawning grounds, and interfere with the river’s tidal flow.

“The tide is the heartbeat and respiration of the Hudson,” Riverkeeper’s John Lipscomb said. “It brings salt from the ocean and oxygenates the water.”

Another Riverkeeper demand is that the Army Corps include climate change-related sea-level rise in its analysis, rather than focusing narrowly on storm surges. But the Army Corps says that the focus on storm surges stems from its mandate from Congress.

Last week, a report from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that the city has been slow to make use of the $15 billion in aid it received for Sandy since 2013 – in fact, the city’s spent less than half of it so far.

The report also found that properties in the floodplain are now worth $101 billion, more than 70 percent higher than in 2010, further raising the stakes.

New York state, New York City and New Jersey are the Army Corps’ partners in the storm-surge barrier study and will have a say in the final decision. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office has yet to express an opinion on the matter. [Crain’s] — Kevin Sun