Long Beach to spend $33 million on flood relief

James Bernstein for LI Herald

Originally published in Long Island Herald

Hazel Webb, a 65-year-old City of Long Beach maintenance worker, describes herself as a calm person. When it comes to water — flooding in particular — she becomes quite animated, however.

“Oh my Lord,” she said on a sunny Monday afternoon, digging out her cellphone to show photos of six-inch-deep water that rises in rainstorms along Roosevelt Boulevard, East Bay Drive, Monroe Boulevard, Park Place and East Pine Street, in the North Park section of town.

During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Webb said, water rose a few feet, up to the front of her steps on East Pine. But even in a relatively light rainfall, she said, “This place is sinking.”

The city is scheduled to undertake one of its largest infrastructure projects in decades, spending about $33 million of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to mitigate flooding in North Park. The project is set to begin in about two months, and take roughly two years to complete.

The city had begun working to secure funds for the project in August 2014. But it needed more money, and in March, the City Council agreed on an amended plan to request more funds.

The barrier island was swamped by the Atlantic Ocean during Sandy. The Long Beach boardwalk was extensively damaged, and had to be rebuilt. Officials said that critical infrastructure, including the city’s water purification plant, wastewater treatment plant, and electrical and gas substations, sustained severe damage in the massive tidal surge and unprecedented flooding.

In its March resolution, the City Council noted that over the past few years, it has adopted numerous resolutions, submitted several funding applications, and modified and expanded the scope of the mitigation project, but was awarded only around $20 million. The city needed about $13 million more.

“We figured the project was dead,” said Joe Fabrizio, commissioner of the Department of Public Works.

In February, however, FEMA allocated an additional $13 million after further requests by the city and a push by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat.

“In light of our changing climate and the increased severity of storms, substantial investment in resiliency measures is key to the long-term viability of our communities,” Kaminsky said in a statement, thanking U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand for their help “in supporting the game-changing solution that will revitalize the Western Bays, boosting the local economy and protecting the island we love for generations to come.”

Fabrizio said that plans call for:

Constructing 2,300 linear feet of cantilevered steel bulkhead to stabilize the shoreline, prevent erosion and mitigate flooding.

Building a storm water pump station at Riverside Boulevard and the bay.

Demolishing the abandoned gun range on Water Street.

Replacing all utilities on Water Street, including water and sewer infrastructure, and repaving the street.

“This is 100 percent FEMA-funded,” Fabrizio said. “It’s being done at no cost to the city.”

“It’s a pretty dramatic project,” said John McNally, executive assistant to the city manager. “This will improve daily life for people who live there.”

There are several smaller projects in the works in the city, including drainage improvement on West Park Avenue, between New York and Nevada avenues, and additional bulkheading along Reynolds Channel. “We’re in a very active period” for infrastructure work, McNally said.

But on East Pine in North Park, there is some skepticism about the outcome of the project. Webb said there have been fixes before, and they have not worked.

“They’ve fixed it again and again,” she said, “and it still floods.” During heavier rains, she added, she must park her car a few blocks away to avoid ruining her brakes.

“It’s like a lagoon here when it rains,” said Jonathan Santano, 38, a handyman who lives in the area. “People have to call tow trucks” to pull their cars out of water. He added that he was unsure whether anything could be done. “We live near the water,” he said simply.

Asked to describe flooding conditions in the area, a man who identified himself only as Ronnie said, “Come out when it’s raining. Then you’ll know. But put on your boots.”