Army Corps to Fast Track Protection Plan Following Push

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Locals demanded faster action, and with some help, it seems as if their rallies and endless requests from a post-Sandy panicked peninsula, have finally been heard. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) agreed to fast track its Rockaway Reformulation Project to bring protection to the beach and the bay, making way for construction to begin in 2019 instead of 2020.

With additional funding secured by Senator Charles Schumer in February, and a meeting by Mayor Bill de Blasio with USACE in January, promises were made to move full steam ahead with the plans that would protect the peninsula. The only question that remained was…when? With an announcement by Schumer and de Blasio on Tuesday, March 20, that timeline is now a bit clearer.

The Rockaway Reformulation Study, which will ultimately determine the solution for long-term erosion control and coastal protection projects along the Atlantic Coast, between East Rockaway Inlet, Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay, is now being expedited. A press release sent by Senator Schumer’s office on Tuesday reads, “According to the USACE, the draft report will now be issued in August, followed by a final report in November, allowing for construction in the Rockaways to start as early as next year.”

The last time USACE held a public meeting for their preliminary plans was in December 2016. At the time, USACE said their final report would be available by June 2017, which would need to be reviewed, and the target date for the construction start was 2019. Then nothing happened. In August 2017, The Rockaway Times followed up with the project manager for USACE New York, who said, “If all approvals go as planned, we expect to start work on the Atlantic Shoreline portions of the project in early 2020,” effectively pushing back the original target date.

After seeing storm after storm threaten the peninsula since Sandy and watching the beaches deplete with each major tide, 2020 wasn’t good enough. And locals let the higher ups know it. Following years of highly attended meeting and rallies organized by locals like John Cori, Eddy Pastore, Hank Iori, Amanda Agoglia, Jean Dierking Belford and many others, it appears that their push has paid off.

The endless requests of locals led leaders to take serious action. Following Sandy, Schumer pushed for federal funding for protection in the Rockaways. In February, he announced that the funding was finally available after he secured $730 million to ensure USACE had the money they needed to deliver coastal resilience projects across Sandy-stricken areas in New York. This also came after Mayor de Blasio kept good on a promise he made to locals at a town hall meeting held in December 2017. The mayor promised residents that he heard their concerns and that he would meet with the USACE Lieutenant General Todd Semonite in Washington D.C. at the end of January. That meeting occurred and resulted in de Blasio announcing that Semonite confirmed that the timeline would be expedited, but at the time, no specifics were revealed. Then earlier this month, Schumer met with Colonel Asbery, head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, to urge him to speed things up. With Tuesday's announcement, the senator and mayor say that USACE officially agreed to move things quicker than 2020.

“The residents of the Rockaways and Southern Brooklyn need better protections ASAP, and they are justifiably scared and tired of waiting. This agreement with the Army Corps, forged by Mayor de Blasio and I, will take the flood protection projects from the back burner to the front. In addition to the hundreds of millions we secured by reprogramming hundreds of millions in vital construction funds for this project, this agreement will mean that we can greatly accelerate the actual building of vital protections like a sea wall on the bay side, jetties and groins and more to protect every resident of the Rockaways from future storms and flooding,” Senator Schumer said. “For far too long, the Rockaways have been waiting for a solution. As a strong supporter of this project, I commend the Army Corps for heeding our call and moving full steam ahead on this vital project.”

“New York City’s shoreline is our first line of defense against climate change. We are grateful that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to accelerate its work to protect our coastal neighborhoods. By working with communities and local leaders, we are continuing to deliver on our commitment to build a more sustainable, more resilient, and more equitable city,” Mayor de Blasio added.

The Rockaway Reformulation Study has been a long time coming. It dates back to a 2003 agreement with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, but it ran into several delays, mostly due to funding. With Schumer securing $730 million, funding is no longer an obstacle. 

The latest announcement may sound positive, but with much of the language saying the project “can begin as early as next year,” some who have worked hard for this urgency, are thankful for the progress, but remain dubious and vow to continue the fight.

“It’s promising that there’s some forward movement. It has a lot to do with the hard work of our local elected officials and our mayor who came to our town hall. This has been a collaborative effort with a lot of people that seem to be pushing in the right direction,” Belle Harbor Property Owners Association President Hank Iori said. “I wish it would begin tomorrow, but at least it’s not 2020 now. The more we work together, the faster we can get this going and hopefully it will start in early 2019 instead of late 2019.”

 “I’m a bit skeptical. This is similar to what the mayor did when he took away the ferry and then gave it back. USACE originally said they’d start in 2019 and then all of a sudden it was 2020, and now they’re going back to the original plan,” Rockaway Beach Civic Association President John Cori said.

“Now is the time to keep the pressure on and pay close attention. This is the first time that USACE is talking about a specific date, saying the draft report will be out in August of this year, and it’s great that they’ll open that to public comment. However, now isn’t the time to be celebrating,” Cori added.  “Now is when we really have our work cut out for us and we need to make sure this extra money goes to the projects that it’s meant for and that when that public comment period comes around, we’ll be prepared to say yes or no to certain proposals in the study. I’m cautiously optimistic about this news, but the day I’ll really be happy is when I see a construction crane out on the beach with rocks for groins.”

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