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State outlines anti-flood plans for Howard Beach

Map courtesy NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
By Sarina Trangle

There is expected to be a whole lot of dirt flying in Howard Beach this fall, but not from the state elections.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to landscape Spring Creek Park into a flood prevention barrier by dredging up 765,000 cubic yards of historic fill from the water and piling it on the eastern coast of the creek to create a surge buffer of uniform height.

About 40,000 cubic yards of fresh soil would then be dumped into the creek in northern Jamaica Bay to nourish new salt marshes, grassland habitats and forested areas.

Stephen Zahn, DEC’s regional natural resources supervisor in the city, told Community Board 10’s Feb. 6 meeting that the vegetation would replace phragmites, an invasive species known to burn rapidly, and help curb tall waves.

“You’re going to end up with a greener area that’s not going to burn. It’s going to be a haven for a much larger section of wildlife and it’s going to provide you all these additional benefits of flood protection,” Zahn said.

Zahn and Venetia Lannon, DEC’s regional director in the city, unveiled preliminary ideas for the Spring Creek Mitigation Project for those gathered at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

In November the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded DEC roughly $50 million for storm mitigation work in Howard Beach, which was inundated during Superstorm Sandy.

DEC received $3 million to design the 150-acre project. Zahn said plans were due to FEMA by August. Upon approval, the state is slated to receive $47 million to carry out the storm prevention work.

DEC said the mitigation work is expected to last 18 months and that crews would use barges to transport sand and soil whenever possible.

Many at the meeting expressed a preference for more traditional flood protection measures such as sea walls or for mitigation work to begin in Shellbank Basin, where the surges that flooded Howard Beach during Sandy emerged.

Lannon said the government viewed the DEC’s project as part of a multi-agency effort to strengthen the Jamaica Bay area. She said DEC happened to get funding first, but the federal government often releases money for related initiatives once they see momentum-building.

CB 10 Chair Betty Braton noted that the city Parks Department of Parks has applied for a U.S. Interior Department grant, which it would put toward similar work along Spring Creek north of the Belt Parkway.

Zahn said DEC was exploring extending a bike path into the park and improving public access.

John Calcagnile, CB 10’s second vice chairman and co-chairman of Howard Beach’s New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program Committee, and Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic Association members said too many visitors could jam traffic and lead to policing concerns in the park.

State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) praised DEC for involving the community while stopping by to announce he had requested that major cellphone companies outline changes they have made post-Sandy. Mobile service was shot after the storm, which took out communication and collaboration in many communities.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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