Aiming to stop storm surge in the Five Towns

Army Corps plan targets flooding in Cedarhurst and Lawrence

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While only a dozen or so Five Towns residents attended the Oct. 10 Army Corps of Engineers presentation at Cedarhurst Village Hall — in stark contrast to the crowd of 100 who had come to a meeting in Far Rockaway a week earlier — the Cedarhurst participants were no less intensely interested.

Flooding was on their minds, and they asked questions and listened to the information presented by representatives of the Army Corps, led by District Planning Chief Cliff Jones, on what is officially titled the East Rockaway Inlet to Rockaway Inlet Hurricane Sandy General Reevaluation Study for Coastal Storm Risk Management. The proposed plan has one basic goal: to reduce the effects of coastal storm surge in the East Rockaway and Rockaway inlets and Jamaica Bay, which affects the Five Towns and surrounding South Shore communities.

Based on a cost-benefit analysis, three areas that flood frequently were identified as the most logical beneficiaries of federal money for flood protection: the Village of Cedarhurst and the adjacent unincorporated area of Lawrence; Motts Basin North, a portion of the Town of Hempstead near the Queens border; and what is being called Mid-Rockaway, including the neighborhoods of Arverne, Edgemere and Hammels. The plans for those areas could reduce flooding for more than 850,000 people, and more than 46,000 homes and businesses, in Nassau County, Brooklyn and Queens.

The Cedarhurst project would include repairing and extending bulkheads along a tributary of Jamaica Bay, near the intersection of Peninsula Boulevard and Rockaway Turnpike, and the construction of a pump station behind Five Towns Mini Golf and Batting Range, at 570 Rockaway Turnpike.

Cedarhurst resident Michael Meryytz said he liked what he heard, but he expressed some concerns about how long the project would take. “I think it’s a pretty good idea for the Cedarhurst community — it’s a good plan,” he said. “The time frame is the biggest issue. We’ve been super lucky that we haven’t had any major flooding” since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Daria Mazey, the Army Corps’ lead planner for the project, addressed that concern. “[We are] aggressively targeting the end of next year to begin elements of construction,” she said. “The total construction is expected to last five years.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Frankel, of Cedarhurst, leads the congregation at Agudath Israel, near the inlet where bulkheading will be built, at the intersection of Cedarhurst Avenue and Peninsula Boulevard. He noted the problems flooding causes in that area. “As soon as it starts raining, you can’t even take your car out,” he said. “And on Saturdays, when we don’t use our cars, you’ve got to get to places by walking. It can be quite difficult, given the situation. Someone just told me that they bought new boots, because every time it rains, the water comes up to here,” he added, his hand at his knee.

The Army Corps plan is expected to complement work by the New York State Department of Transportation to improve the Nassau Expressway and Rockaway Turnpike area, which includes Peninsula Boulevard, Mazey explained. The expressway, also known as state Route 878, is undergoing renovations that include raising a portion of the roadway and the installation of a new drainage system for the road, which is a major coastal flooding evacuation route. Typically, 40,000 vehicles a day use 878. That project is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

The Army Corps projects that the Mid-Rockaway improvements, the most comprehensive of the three projects, will cost $222.5 million, including annual operations and maintenance; Cedarhurst-Lawrence, $15.8 million; and Motts Basin North, $3.16 million. Corps officials said that the total cost of recommended storm-surge-reduction plans for the Atlantic shorefront and Jamaica Bay is $526.5 million. The work is expected to be fully funded, as long as federal money is available after reviews by the senior leaders of the Army Corps. New York state and environmental agencies will also sign off on the project, before the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works gives final approval.

Public comments are being accepted until Oct. 22. Email daria.s.mazey@usace.mil or mail to Daria Mazey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District, Planning Division-Environmental Branch, 26 Federal Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10278-0090.

To access the re-evaluation study, go to https://bit.ly/2IVuYW2.

Have an opinion about the Army Corps of Engineers plans? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.