Dead Gate: Army Corps Sea Gates Project Suspended

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The Throgs Neck Bridge (Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Transit Authority)

By Mike Adams, Caroline Ryan and Marco Schaden

The Army Corps of Engineers indefinitely postponed their scheduled Feb. 27 meeting after President Donald Trump’s administration’s proposed budget did not provide funding for the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study. The study focused on looking into how to best protect the greater New York City area from flooding, a reaction to the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and sea-level rise caused by climate change.

The Army Corps of Engineers was going to update the public regarding tasks that are underway since the release of last year’s interim report. But the agency, in an email sent to environmental and political groups, announced the cancellation of the meeting due to a lack of necessary funding to continue the study.

“Activities related to the New York New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Study are suspended until further notice,” the Army Corps email read.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year requests $6 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, a 22 percent decrease from last year’s budget. Along with the New York-New Jersey and Tributaries Feasibility Study, a majority of the Army Corps of Engineer’s New York District projects and studies were not given funding as part of the proposed budget.

In a Jan. 18 tweet, Trump called the project “a costly, foolish and environmentally unfriendly idea that, when needed, probably won’t work anyway.” The Trump administration’s decision to cut funding for the study prompted criticism from U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and other New York-based government officials.

“The administration is being penny wise and pound foolish by not funding the studies that allow Long Islanders and New Yorkers to prepare for the next superstorm,” Schumer said. “There was no reason given for these cuts—because there is no answer.”

Since 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers has been overseeing a $19 million analysis to look at ways to mitigate the kinds of potential severe damage caused by superstorms on areas adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean in New York and New Jersey.

The 2019 interim report, created by the Army Corps, presented five options to protect New York City from storm surges. One alternative involved putting a sea gate in the East River near the Throgs Neck Bridge. The sea gate (or storm surge barrier) would be in the water, from the sea floor to well above sea-level, and span the width of the river. The gate would be left open to allow boating and fish migration, and would only be closed when a potential storm was approaching the area.

The proposed sea gate generated contention from local officials due to its potential to increase the damage that storm surges could cause North Shore communities if water originally bound for New York City would be redirected by the barrier to Long Island.

“If there was a storm surge and they closed the surge gates, it would create what they called induced flooding, which would then flood the bays to the east of the Throgs Neck Bridge, including Hempstead Harbor,” Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee (HHPC) Executive Director Eric Swinson said. “The extent of the flooding, that we don’t know. There’s residential sites and sewage treatment sites that could potentially be flooded. We were pushing to get the Army Corps to study it.”

In the Army Corps of Engineers’ interim report, two alternatives were presented that included the Throgs Neck sea gate. But without funding to continue­­, Alternative 1—involving no action at all by the Army Corps—seems to be the option chosen by process of elimination.

Alternative 2 involves two sea gates—the Sandy Hook-Breezy Point sea gate and the Throgs Neck sea gate— and would cost an estimated $118 billion and take approximately 25 years to build. The Army Corps’ net cost-benefit analysis is $57 billion for this option.
Alternative 3A has the Throgs Neck sea gate and the Verrazano Narrows sea gate, the Arthur Kill sea gate, the Pelham sea gate and the Jamaica Bay sea gate, costing an estimated $47.1 billion and taking about 18 years to construct. The net cost-benefit analysis is $124 billion.

Alternative 5 has no sea gates and only perimeter solutions, including shoreline-based measures to the New Jersey Upper Bay/Hudson River, New York City west side, East Harlem, Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal. It is also the cheapest option at $14.8 billion and would be built in nine years. The net cost-benefit analysis is $33.8 billion. This option received the most support from local residents, government officials and activist groups at the Army Corps’ most recent Long Island-based meeting in Great Neck on Oct. 24.

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth was adamant that any proposal that put the North Shore at greater risk could not pass, saying at the October meeting that, “it is not acceptable for the North Shore of Long Island to be considered collateral damage.” Bosworth offered a measured response to the loss of funding in a statement from the town, saying that while the project stalling was good for her constituents in the short term, Manhattan will still need protection.

“The town has expressed its concerns regarding the plans to place flood gates near the Throgs Neck Bridge and how it might impact our communities on the North Shore,” Bosworth said. “We were recently made aware that the federal study for the flood gate project would no longer be funded. While this means temporary relief for our waterfront communities, we hope that if the plans for the project are resurrected the Army Corps of Engineers will work to find a strategy that will protect lower Manhattan from adverse effects of flooding while taking our concerns into account.”

While Swinson said he felt the Throgs Neck sea gate would cause unacceptable harm to the North Shore, he also said not protecting the New York City metropolitan area would leave the area too vulnerable to damage from the kind of intense storms predicted to come as a result of worsening climate change.

“We feel the study should continue,” Swinson said. “We strongly feel that New York City needs to be protected, we can’t have it go under water. But there’s different ways to do that without sacrificing the outlying communities. There are ways to help the city without creating environmental damage and flooding, and that should be studied. We can’t just ignore the problem with sea level rises continuing and storms getting more intense.”

Other activist groups on the North Shore of Long Island agree with Swinson, including Sarah Deonarine, the executive director of the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee.

“The construction of a surge gate at Throgs Neck could be a detriment to Manhasset Bay, so the notice that the Army Corps’ work is suspended came as a relief,” Deonarine said. “However, should this work be picked up again, more scientific study needs to be given to the impacts of the Throgs Neck gate on the North Shore of Long Island.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the matter.

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