Building Back the Beach

Building Back the Beach

Building Back the Beach
January 28, 2014

A year ago, Superstorm Sandy hammered a narrow stretch of Long Island’s south shore that includes Jones Beach, Gilgo State Park and Robert Moses State Park. Ocean Parkway, which provides access to the beaches and parks, was shut down for a month, but by May the state had completed a $32.2 million repair project, paving the way for beachgoers to visit the popular oceanfront recreation areas this past summer.

Then, this past month, another storm washed away much of the sand brought back to reinforce the vulnerable highway, prompting some experts to criticize the rush to install stopgap measures and to call for more long-term resiliency measures.

But Colonel Paul Owen, the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New York District, said that while the beachfront sand restoration project didn’t entirely prevent further damage, it still prevented more serious harm to Ocean Parkway.

“Even with the last storm that came through, if they hadn’t done that work, I suspect you would have lost a couple of lanes of Ocean Parkway without those measures, because Ocean Parkway was so vulnerable and damaged by Sandy,” Owen said at City & State’s Public Projects Forum in October.

The state also did not immediately secure federal funding to make the highway more resilient than it had been before Sandy. After reports of the new damage to Ocean Parkway, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer called on federal agencies to grant more funding for further restoration projects.

Moving forward, state officials pledged to ensure the highway’s stability. Joseph Brown, the New York City regional director for the state Department of Transportation, said that despite the challenges, the state was taking steps to address the problem.

“There’s a tremendous amount of water that goes in and out of the Great South Bay, and the ocean has been trying to cut through in that area, including Gilgo Beach, so the hardening is very critical,” Brown said at City & State’s conference. “It’s all part of a solution that’s all connected. So getting dredging at Fire Island and allowing that water to flow easier there is important to us, of course, because we want the roadway to be secure and hardened.”

Last month’s storm still caused significant erosion along Ocean Parkway, and will require additional taxpayer dollars for repairs, both in the short-term and the long-term.

“It came perilously close to Ocean Parkway, and to cutting off that critical link that the Department of Transportation has in New York,” Owen said. “So we did some emergency repairs with the state to get that done, and now we’re going to look at doing more permanent repairs as our contractor progresses through that project, which will be complete in March of 2014.”

In the long run, Owen said, federal disaster relief legislation passed after Superstorm Sandy will eventually provide the resources to bring much of the coastline up to conditions not seen since the 1970s— including along Ocean Parkway.

“The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act authorized us not just to repair the damage from Sandy to pre-storm conditions, which is usually what happens, but to go to the original design conditions, which could stretch back 30 years,” Owen said. “We lost about 6 million cubic yards of sand because of Sandy, and we’re going to be authorized to put back about 17 million cubic yards.”

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.