Federal study assessing local coastal storm risk loses funding, Army Corps says

Mark Harrington for Newsday

Originally published in Newsday

A federal study to assess the risks of increasing coastal storms for waterways in and around New York City while proposing giant measures to mitigate them has lost its funding during the current fiscal year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Friday.

The funding lapse halts work on an initiative that sought to head off costly damage like the $65 billion caused by superstorm Sandy. Measures already under consideration by the federal government included ambitious and costly networks of steel surge-barriers, including one from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, to Breezy Point, Queens — barriers that could close in advance of big storms to prevent inundation from surges.

The Army Corps, which undertook the study in the aftermath of Sandy, said the “funding lapse” will stall work on the study during the fiscal 2020-21 budget period.

The study, officially called the New York and New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coast Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study, lost out to other priorities in the agency’s budget, a spokesman said.

The study “has to compete for funding with all the other studies in the Corps of Engineers’ National portfolio,”  Army Corps spokesman Michael Embrich said.

Embrich noted release of study milestones that had been planned for this summer, “will be postponed as work on the study is suspended until further federal funding is available.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused the Trump Administration of being "penny-wise and pound-foolish by not funding the studies that allow Long Island and New Yorkers to prepare for the next superstorm. There was no reason given for these cuts — because there is no answer.”

The funding lapse won’t impact work on a separate initiative called the Nassau County Back Bays Study, which is examining risks and mitigation measures for coastal waterways in Nassau, including smaller barriers across local bays. That study has received additional time to finish its work and higher funding of $6 million, from a previous $3 million budget, said Army Corps spokesman Steve Rochette. The study is now expected to be completed by Nov. 2021, he said.
Rochette noted that the Nassau study was from a supplemental bill, and wasn’t impacted by the federal budget lapse that suspended the New York Harbor study.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) criticized the decision not to fund the New York Harbor study as “incredibly short sighted.” He noted waterways around New York City and Long Island are “extremely connected and related to one another.”

“It makes sense to think about these plans regionally,” he said. “We’ll pay far more cleaning up after a big storm than we will having smart plans” to mitigate them.”