BY MARCO SCHADEN AND CAROLINE RYAN
On Thursday night, Oct. 24, a large crowd of around 300 people gathered at the Inn at Great Neck for a presentation from the Army Corps of Engineers about a potential Throgs Neck surge gate. The Army Corps of Engineers has been studying different alternatives for protecting New York Harbor following the impact of Superstorm Sandy.
Local officials and activists have been speaking out against the potential Throgs Neck surge gate because of environmental impacts and induced flooding that could see storm surge levels rise by several feet. Local officials and activists decided to schedule a press conference at the Village Hall of Great Neck Plaza an hour before the Army Corps public meeting was set to begin to voice their concern.
“We understand the need to protect Manhattan from flooding, we saw what happened during Superstorm Sandy, but we don’t want to be the designated spillway,” Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said at the press conference. “We’re most concerned with the potential for induced coastal flooding and water quality degradation that could result from the installation and operation of these proposed flood gates. It’s not OK for the North Shore of Long Island to be considered acceptable collateral damage.”
However, within 15 minutes of the public meeting, the Army Corps stated the Throgs Neck surge gate may never happen.
“Alternatives 2 and 3A, both of which those alternatives have the gate at the Throgs Neck, are less and less likely to be selected as part of the plan,” Bryce Wisemiller, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District project manager, said at the public meeting. “There is a lot of studying underway and evaluation yet to do, but I do want to make that point initially so people have that in mind.”
Even with that note of comfort, officials are still wary of the potential impact the surge gate could bring to North Shore communities.
“They have made it clear that anything is still possible,” Peter Forman, commissioner of the Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management, said. “When you’re in a situation where something very bad can happen, the right answer is not to sit and relax.”
The Army Corps is currently considering five different alternatives to protect NYC from an interim report released in February. Most of the alternatives include surge gates, one surge gate at Pelham Bay has already been eradicated from the plan, but Alternative 5 has no surge gates. This plan includes shoreline-based measures along the coastal areas that could be affected by storm surge.
“I can say on behalf of Save the Sound that we support Alternative 5, which really gets to onshore measures that specifically will protect against sea level rise as well as storm surges,” Save the Sound Director Tracy Brown said at the press conference. “We are entirely opposed to the sea gates. They’re not looking at the environmental services that will be disrupted and possibly irreparably changed by putting sea gates in the Long Island Sound.”
Other plans to eliminate the Throgs Neck surge gate are also being discussed by the Army Corps.
“If we don’t have a Throgs Neck gate, it might still function,” Wisemiller said. “The cost would go down and maybe there are some damages that we would have to do on a shoreline-based nature, but it might be a better approach than what we have currently scoped on Alternative 3A. We just don’t know. We’re looking at variations on the alternatives.”
However, with climate change and sea-level rise, a severe storm could be detrimental to areas along the coast.
“For the more common events, like Nor’easters, the surge you have now, let’s say for a 20-year event is five feet,” Wisemiller said. “As sea level rise goes up by three feet, the five-foot surge does not just increase by the three feet, it actually become more like six feet, it exacerbates the surge with sea level rise. It’s a very vicious risk that builds over time and you will really become aware of it when a severe storm hits.”
There are many areas within the North Shore that are close to sea-level and would feel the effects of a storm surge whether there was a surge gate at the Throgs Neck or not. There are currently no plans from the Army Corps to protect these areas.
“The study area right now is restrained by the areas have not been evaluated previously,” Wisemiller said while answering a question from the audience. “There have been studies back in the 50s for that area, but I would suggest that if you have concerns about how to deal with coastal storm risk in northern Nassau County you should reach out to your elected officials. We cannot do studies that they are not asking us to do.”
Each alternative comes at a cost ranging from $14.8 billion to $118 billion. The hefty price tag would be split between the federal government, New York City and the state governments of New York and New Jersey. The funding needed would have to be approved by each one of these aforementioned bodies for the plans to go forward with the project.
State Senator Anna Kaplan, who represents the potentially affected areas on the North Shore like Great Neck, Manhasset and Port Washington, was present at the Army Corps public meeting.
“One thing was very clear from the presentation made by the Army Corps of Engineers: building flood gates to protect New York City will profoundly impact my residents and the coastal portions of my district,” Kaplan said. “This is an incredibly serious issue and I will do everything in my power to ensure that Long Island isn’t sacrificed to protect New York City. If anything is to be constructed, they will be hearing from me and my residents first.”
The first feasibility report and environmental impact statement will be produced by the Army Corps of Engineers New York District in July 2020 and a final decision will be decided by the Army Corps Chief of Engineer in July 2022.