FEMA OKs Long Beach flood protection project

Approves $20 million to fortify city's critical infrastructure


Six years after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in Long Beach, the Federal Emergency Management Agency last week approved funding for the second phase of a $20 million plan to protect the city’s critical infrastructure along Reynolds Channel, which was seriously damaged by the storm.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer announced the financial commitment on Oct. 12, which they said would protect critical utility lines along Long Beach’s north shore with new steel bulkheading and other resiliency measures aimed at fortifying the city against major flooding.

“The devastation from Hurricane Sandy is still felt today in Long Beach, and it is crucial that we provide this community with the assistance it needs to strengthen its infrastructure against future storms,” Cuomo said in a news release on Oct. 12. “This funding will not only help Long Beach continue its recovery, but also ensure its resiliency as we face extreme weather events that have become all too common.”

During Sandy, the industrial district — the city’s water treatment plant and storage tower, wastewater treatment plant, electrical substations and a major gas pipeline — was underwater, and had to be shut down for emergency repairs. The wastewater plant was out of operation for 10 days, officials said, the city had no electrical power for two weeks, and the water treatment plant was inoperable for nearly three weeks, with periodic outages after that while it was repaired. Parts of the waterfront, officials said, had either no bulkheads or inadequate ones.

The protection project, first announced by Cuomo in 2013, will be financed entirely by state and federal funds. Its initial cost was $13 million, and city officials said they were able to secure additional hazard-mitigation funds administered by the state to expand the work.

Approximately $1.6 million for the first phase of the project was previously awarded for engineering and design work, while $18.4 million has been earmarked for final engineering and construction. The project, officials said, is expected to be completed by October 2021.

“The FEMA funding for the Long Beach flood-protection project should be celebrated by the many homeowners and businesses of Long Beach that have shown incredible resilience since Superstorm Sandy,” Schumer said in a statement. “This project will provide Long Beach with the armor it needs to weather the next storm, and that’s why I fought tooth and nail to secure the funds needed to get it off the ground and put it on the path to protecting critical utility lines along the northern shoreline.”

In addition to the steel bulkheading, officials said that the project would protect infrastructure along the north side of the city with backfill; an armored slope around an existing natural gas pipeline; the installation of a tangent pile bulkhead adjacent to the Long Beach Boulevard bridge abutments; and construction of a 33-million-gallon-per-day pump station as well as storm water infrastructure upgrades to mitigate flooding in tidal wetlands.

In 2014, the City Council voted unanimously to approve an $822,000 contract with Woodbury-based D&B Engineers and Architects P.C. to create designs for the installation of bulkheads and other flood-protection infrastructure along the city’s northern waterfront from National to Monroe boulevards, an area that is prone to flooding.

As the Herald reported in 2016, the initial designs for 2,300 feet of bulkheading and a barrier system to protect the city’s industrial district were completed in June 2015. But two years ago, the council voted to amend the city’s contract with D&B for an additional $558,000 in order to redesign the project after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, FEMA and other agencies advised the city to expand its plan.

The agencies called on the city to reroute roughly 1,800 feet of bulkheading and incorporate the reinforcement along a portion of Long Island Rail Road property — a project that was initially to be undertaken by the LIRR — which the city said “is a critical component in maintaining a continual line of protection along the shoreline.” The revision also included a pumping system to send water back into Reynolds Channel over the bulkheads.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Acting City Manager Mike Tangney said that the project would provide the city with additional protection, and officials have said that the plan would complement the Army Corps project along the beach.

“This project is crucial to the city’s future,” Tangney said, “and can’t happen quickly enough.”

Officials said that the redesigns were completed last year, and that an environmental review of the project is close to completion. The project is expected to be put out to bid before the end of the year.

The city must still acquire a portion of land under Reynolds Channel owned by the Town of Hempstead, and come to an agreement with the LIRR on the use of its property to move forward with the project.

Officials said they anticipate financing the project with a series of bond anticipation notes before the city is reimbursed by FEMA.

“This project will help protect our vulnerable neighborhoods, strengthen our critical infrastructure, and enhance our resilience for future storms,” City Council President Anthony Eramo said in a statement.