Long Beach OKs land deal with town for project to protect critical infrastructure

Hempstead Town Board to hold public hearing Jan. 8 before voting on sale

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The City Council unanimously approved two measures on Dec. 4 to advance a long-awaited $20 million project to protect the city’s critical infrastructure and surrounding neighborhoods along Reynolds Channel, which were heavily damaged in Hurricane Sandy.

The project, aimed at fortifying critical utility lines along Long Beach’s north shore with flood-protection measures including steel bulkheading, would require the city to purchase a sliver of land under Reynolds Channel that is currently owned by the Town of Hempstead.

First announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013, the project would be financed entirely by state and federal funds. It is expected to begin by next summer and be completed in the fall of 2021, officials said.

The city’s corporation counsel, Rob Agostisi, called the move the “single most important project” in Long Beach, after what he described as “post-apocalyptic” destruction left by Sandy.

“This is the result of years’ worth of teamwork,” Agostisi said. “This [project] is going to be a big one . . . it’s going to be transformational, and it really stands to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Because 2,500 linear feet of bulkheading — running from Riverside to Monroe boulevards — would be installed below the high tide line, the council voted to purchase 0.2 acres of underwater shoreline from the town for $55,250. The city and town agreed on the price and created a memorandum of understanding earlier this year, officials said.

“In yet another form of intermunicipal cooperation,” Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said in a statement, “I’m proud that the Town of Hempstead is doing the right thing by aiding our fellow residents living in Long Beach by committing to sell, at fair market value, a parcel of property so that the city can build new steel bulkheading that will protect critical infrastructure important to residents not only in the city of Long Beach, but to residents in the town and in the county.”

The Town Board is expected to hold a public hearing on Jan. 8 before voting on the deal.

“We are proud to work with the City of Long Beach in a bipartisan effort to assist in their comprehensive shoreline protection plan to protect against future flooding and infrastructure damages,” Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said in a statement. 

The City Council also approved an environmental assessment of the project, required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act and recently completed by Nelson Pope & Voorhis LLP — a Melville-based environmental, planning and consulting firm hired by the city — which determined that the project would not adversely impact the environment. Last month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a separate report that also concluded that the project would not have a negative impact.

Officials said that the city is also close to finalizing an agreement with the Long Island Rail Road, since the project includes a portion of its property.

During Sandy, the industrial district — the city’s water treatment plant and storage tower, wastewater treatment plant, electrical substations and a major gas pipeline — was underwater, and had to be shut down for emergency repairs. The wastewater plant was out of operation for 10 days, officials said, the city had no electrical power for two weeks, and the water treatment plant was inoperable for nearly three weeks, with periodic outages after that while it was being repaired. Parts of the bayfront, officials said, had either no bulkheads or inadequate ones.

“We were not able to provide basic services . . .,” Agostisi said, adding, of the wastewater treatment plant, “As Sandy reminded everyone . . . without the ability to dispose of waste, you cannot have community living at all. The water purification plant — there is no extended living without potable drinking and bathing water.”

In addition to the steel bulkheading, officials said that the project would protect infrastructure along the city’s north side with backfill; an armored slope around an existing natural gas pipeline; the installation of a “tangent pile” bulkhead adjacent to the Long Beach Boulevard bridge abutments; and the construction of a 33-million-gallon-per-day pump station as well as storm-water infrastructure upgrades to mitigate flooding.

The project would create storm surge and flood protection not only for the treatment plants and the gas and electric feeds for the entire barrier island, officials said, but also for the surrounding residential community and LIRR facilities.

“This project is the best chance we have to protect those installations and ensure the city’s very habitability,” Agostisi said.

The project is expected to be financed by a series of short-term bond anticipation notes before the city is reimbursed by FEMA. Last week, however, officials said that the city was negotiating with FEMA to submit direct invoices for payment rather than waiting for reimbursement after the project is completed, “sharply reducing, or perhaps eliminating, the need for financing.”

The bulkheads would be 9 feet above sea level, to protect against a 100-year storm. John Mirando, the city’s commissioner of public works, said that protection of the pump station, in particular, would help alleviate flooding “from the bay to the ocean,” between Edwards and Long Beach boulevards.

“This project covers a good cross-section of the city,” Mirando said, “and not only protects [it] from high tide and the bay, but will protect us from floods in the streets in between those areas.”

He noted a $6 million Army Corps of Engineers study launched last year to investigate potential ways to reduce the impact of major storms. Covering about 200 miles of back-bay shoreline in Nassau and Suffolk counties, the study calls for building structures like floodwalls and levees to protect against storms and flooding.

Some residents, however, questioned whether the project would protect against another Sandy, which Army Corps officials have called a 180-year storm. Others asked about the status of a separate, $12.5 million bulkhead project along the city’s public shoreline on the bay using Community Reconstruction Program funding.

“You’ve got this area where water is coming in, and it’s going to go right around that,” said Mary Volosevich, president of the Northeast Bay and Canal Civic Association. “The Canals and the West End, we get flooded out all the time, and that’s just from heavy rain.”

Mirando said that the design of that project was 90 percent complete, and was expected to go out to bid in two to three months. “Most likely, these two projects will be being built at about the same time,” he said.