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Congress approves bill that will protect southern Queens from coastal storms

Courtesy of the mayor's office

The 2020 Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) passed by Congress this month holds key provisions to protect the Rockaways and coastal communities of southern Queens.

The sweeping measure includes authorization of the East Rockaway to Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay Sandy Reformulation Project, which will give authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete initial construction of the project at full federal expense. It will also authorize maintenance of the project once construction is complete.

Following a push from New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, the language ensures that if money runs out before the construction is complete, the Corps can finish construction without having to seek a cost share from a local sponsor.

“In order to protect our communities from flooding, preserve our shorelines, and restore New York’s precious water ecosystems, it is imperative that we properly rehabilitate our invaluable resources through the Water Resources Development Act every year,” Schumer said, adding that restoring the Jamaica Bay ecosystem and hurricane and storm risk reduction for Howard Beach were vital.

Advocates such as Paul Galley of Hudson Riverkepper say the passage of the WRDA is a big step forward in the region’s effort to “get out in front” of the threats posed by climate change.

“This legislation will guide the federal government towards a more comprehensive and holistic climate solutions, incorporating a new focus on ecological restoration and greater emphasis on community engagement,” Galley said.

“The passage of WRDA is a historic achievement that shows impressive progress in how the Army Corps will meet some of the greatest climate challenges we face as a nation,” Waterfront Alliance President and CEO Cortney Worrall said. “Building our way out of flooding and ignoring key aspects of climate change is no longer tenable. This bill reflects that reality better than any previous, related legislation.”

Construction of the $336 coastal resiliency project spanning from Far Rockaway to Neponsit is part of the Army Corps-led efforts to reduce the flood risk along the Atlantic coast and along Jamaica Bay. The project consists of a reinforced dune system designed to block storm surge and new extended tapered groins, jetty-like structures extending out into the ocean intended to trap sand and reduce beach erosion to maintain a natural buffer between the Atlantic and coastal communities.

That project got underway in late October on the eighth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 structures by storm surge.

“This project has never been more necessary and will bring much-needed resiliency infrastructure to our district,” Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said. “By starting the reinforcement of our coastal defense against the ever-worsening effects of climate change, I am hopeful that this is the beginning of more solid measures we can take.”

State Senator Joseph Addabbo agreed that the coastal resiliency project would help protect those communities from coastal flooding and beach erosion.

“After witnessing the devastation of Sandy, I know we cannot afford to have another superstorm or hurricane inflict massive damage to our communities like Sandy did eight years ago,” Addabbo said. “All of the aspects of this project will go a long way in safeguarding the beaches and coastal areas to the effects of climate change.”

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