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 after 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 rise by several feet. The original meeting, that was set up by various activist groups and the Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management for Sept. 10 at the Sands Point Preserve, was canceled after the Army Corps pulled out, citing scheduling conflicts. The Army Corps then proceeded to come up with their own public meeting for Oct. 24. 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, citing the potential effects of a Throgs Neck surge gate. “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 okay for the North Shore of Long Island to be considered acceptable collateral damage. Up until now, the focus has primarily been on New York and New Jersey harbors and not on our shore lines. As the study progresses, we need to make sure that they are vigilant about the potential impact to our communities.”
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 said, commissioner of the Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management, who tried to set up the previous meeting on Sept. 10. “When you’re in a situation where something very bad can happen, the right answer is not to sit and relax.”
The Army Corps released an interim report in February that presented five different alternatives to protect NYC. 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,” Director of Save the Sound Tracy Brown said at the press confrence. “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 and in the Hudson River.”
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.
“Manorhaven is indeed a very concerning area, looking at it from a coastal storm risk perspective, as well as North Port Washington,” Wisemiller said while answering a question from the audience. “The study area right now is restrained by the areas that have not been evaluated previously. 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.”
At the press conference, Town of North Hempstead councilwoman Dina De Giorgio, who represents Port Washington and the villages in Manhasset, spoke about how important it is for the residents to make their voices heard regarding the various alternatives. She called on her colleagues in government to “join together and insist that the Army Corps of Engineers listen to Long Island and give our residents an opportunity to be heard.”
Veronica Lurvey, councilwoman from the Town of North Hempstead called upon the Army Corps of Engineers to thoroughly study the full impact of the proposed flood wall on the communities affected. Councilwoman Michelle Johnson from the Town of Oyster Bay had similar sentiments regarding the need for more research.
“It is undeniable that the North Shore coastal communities will be made to suffer both economically and environmentally from flooding due to these storm surge gates,” Johnson said. “As it currently stands, the extent of the area being studied for the impacts of induced flooding needs to be better defined.”
A Town of North Hempstead board meeting was scheduled for the same night as the Army Corps public meeting so the supervisor and councilmembers had to leave early. But Bosworth still got a word in during the public meeting despite not being present.
“We request the Army Corps to further evaluate the potential unintended impacts of diverting flood water from NYC.” Mal Nathan said, reading a statement on behalf of Judi Bosworth. “We further request that the scope of the study include our impacts on tidal flushing, turbidity and the resulting impacts to water quality, fin-fish, shellfish, marine mammals and tidal wetlands.”
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.
“My number one priority is to protect the coastal communities I represent on the North Shore,” U.S. Representative Thomas Suozzi said. “I am very encouraged about the level of public interest in this matter. It appears that it is unlikely that the Army Corps of Engineers will recommend a tidal gate at or near the Throgs Neck Bridge because of the cost versus benefit, but we remain vigilant and whatever the Army Corps does, the North Shore communities on the Long Island Sound must be protected.”
State Senator Anna Kaplan, who represents the potentially affected areas on the North Shore such as 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, who was previously the councilwoman of District 4 for Town of North Hempstead, 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.”
State Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso, who resides in Port Washington and represents the area, is the Chair of the NYS Assembly’s Long Island Sound Task Force.
“I regret that I was out of town and unable to attend the meeting, but my office did have a representative who informed me that close to 300 people, including about 100 standees, turned out to show their concern about protecting our north shore bays and harbors,” D’Urso said. “I will continue to work to safeguard the interests and welfare of North Shore Long Island Sound residents.”
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 Engineers in July 2022.