The federal government has approved funding to start a $50 million flood-mitigation project along the Queens waterfront to better protect Howard Beach against rising sea levels and storm surges similar to those that caused extensive damage during Superstorm Sandy, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Nov. 29.
The project by the state Department of Environmental Conservation would reshape 150 acres along the eastern shore of Spring Creek and the north shore of Jamaica Bay to establish barriers limiting the effect of floodwaters and waves. Planned excavation, imported sand and added vegetation would establish a system of salt marshes, dunes, grasslands and maritime forests at increasing elevations.
“As the state continues to work with local communities to identify and implement strategies to make at-risk areas more resilient to extreme weather, this project is another example of how we’re building back better to better protect New Yorkers’ homes and businesses,” Cuomo said.
After Sandy hit in October 2012, Cuomo said there had been “a series of extreme weather incidents” and New York should rebuild accordingly.
A 2010 report titled “New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force Report to the Legislature” noted New York Harbor’s level had increased 15 inches in the previous 150 years, with harbor tide gauges showing a rise of between 4 and 6 inches since 1960.
The DEC plans to use $3 million for engineering and design, with an additional $47 million possible for site work if the state’s design is approved. The site is managed by the National Park Service as part of the Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
At Howard Beach, the tidal surge during Sandy reached up to 6 feet above ground level and 1,958 homes and 38 businesses were damaged, as well as two schools, officials said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that 700 affected homes received disaster relief loans totaling $43 million.
The project would create a uniform elevation meant to limit floodwaters and waves reaching the community. About 765,000 cubic yards of material would be excavated to create higher contours inland, with some 40,000 cubic yards of sand imported to create a 6-inch cover for planting. It’s expected to result in almost 87 acres of upland buffer from dunes and forest, 49 acres of low marsh, 10 acres of high marsh and six acres of tidal creek.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens called it a smart investment in storm defenses “that are consistent with enhancing the natural environment.”
They still need park service approval, but expect it, and hope to build the barriers next year, DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said. “The goal is to try and get it done quickly.”