People have gathered on the Long Beach boardwalk in recent weeks to watch crews operating towering cranes hauling stones along the beach to rebuild the city’s jetties, part of an Army Corps of Engineers coastal protection plan that was kicked around for decades before it became a reality.
With the Army Corps project — as well as numerous home elevations and a bulkheading program in the works to protect the north side of the city — Long Beach is moving protection projects forward faster than other communities that also badly need them. It’s crucial that these measures, identified by volunteer committees in communities across the South Shore in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, are made top priorities.
The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery established 22 Community Reconstruction Program committees encompassing 42 disaster-affected localities on Long Island that were eligible to receive up to $25 million to undertake resiliency and infrastructure projects. The program is funded almost entirely by over $600 million in federal money through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program. For nearly a year, committees along the South Shore comprising local civic leaders, experts and officials spent hundreds of volunteered hours developing rebuilding plans.
But aside from Long Beach and a few other communities, we’ve heard very little about the status or progress of those projects.
For example, $9.9 million has been earmarked for storm mitigation in Barnum Island, Island Park and Harbor Isle, which includes new storm-water drainage systems and improvements to reduce flooding. In the Five Towns, $20.89 million was awarded to increase pipe capacity and improve outfall pipes, and for pervious paving, rain gardens and other initiatives to absorb more water.
In south Valley Stream, $3.7 million was allocated for the restoration of the Path, the municipally owned open space near Cloverfield Road. Baldwin was awarded a total of $10.6 million in CRP funds. On April 5, Nassau County and the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery held a forum at Baldwin High School to discuss the Baldwin Downtown and Commercial Corridor Resiliency Plan.
In Bay Park, a $5.5 million project to install check valves to prevent flooding there is tentatively scheduled to begin next spring. Millions more dollars have been set aside for drainage and storm-water infrastructure improvements in Oceanside, Bellmore-Merrick, and Wantagh-Seaford, among others. But too many of these projects have barely gotten off the ground.
In 2014, the state approved the Long Beach CRP committee’s spending plan for the $25 million it was awarded, including new bulkheading along the north side of the barrier island, improving storm water drainage, establishing an office of emergency management, and protecting sewer pump and lift stations.
As anyone in Long Beach or Island Park will tell you, the worst Sandy damage occurred not by the ocean, but along Reynolds Channel. A long-awaited, $12.8 million project to protect the bayfront with bulkheading, outlined in the CRP plan, is expected to begin late this year. A separate $20 million project, announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 and focused on protecting the city’s critical infrastructure and the North Park community along Reynolds Channel, is also expected to commence later this year, pending state approval. And the creation of an office of emergency management at City Hall is in the works.
Some CRP committee members and residents have expressed frustration with the slow pace of the projects and what they have described as a lack of communication with the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. Elected officials such as State Sen. Todd Kaminsky have been pushing to cut the red tape and move the projects forward.
Though local municipalities are largely responsible for leading the projects, and while we understand that things such as environmental studies and engineering designs take time, and unforeseen circumstances occur — this is no time for complacency or byzantine approval processes.
We urge the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery to keep residents updated about the status of the plans — and funding — and we urge our elected officials to keep the pressure on the state and local governments to make sure that shovels will be in the ground in many more places than Long Beach sooner rather than later.