It took several months after Superstorm Sandy's devastating blow for the hardest-hit New York and New Jersey shorelines to become usable by the public again as tons of debris were removed and emergency repairs were made. The October 2012 storm robbed significant amounts of sand from beaches, destroyed or severely compromised berms and dunes and increased flood risks to local communities. But a new phase of post-Sandy work to make the shores more resilient to storms will begin as early as this fall and focus on roughly $2.77 billion worth of projects in the region that were federally authorized before the storm but not yet begun.
Led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that work is in addition to the sand replacement as well as dune and berm rebuilding that the Corps and its contractors began last summer and will continue through much of this year (see story, p. 14). All told, the agency's Sandy program in the heavily battered Northeast consists of about 155 projects at a combined cost of roughly $5.3 billion, says Joseph Forcina, Corps chief of the Hurricane Sandy coastal management division, which is in charge of the largest part of the post-hurricane shoreline restoration effort. By comparison, the agency has spent about that much, on average, for its entire national civil works program annually.
"In a nutshell, people think of beaches as just for recreation. But very little of what we do on these [post-Sandy] projects is for that," Forcina says. Most of the Corps' post-Sandy program focuses on flood-risk reduction and building sustainability long term, he says.
The storm affected a total of about 31,000 miles of coastline from Virginia to Maine and caused coastal degradation as far south as Florida and as far west as the Great Lakes, says Forcina. About 90% of the damage was concentrated in New York and New Jersey.
While emergency repairs as well as assessments and designs began soon after the storm, work now under way involves 25 shoreline repair and beach restoration projects as well as 85 operations and maintenance projects that include dredging federal navigation channels damaged by Sandy. Under the federal Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies and operations and maintenance programs, this work totals about $1.78 billion and is set to wind down this fall.
The goal of current work is to restore coastal projects to their original construction state. As such, a beach upgraded 20 years ago but damaged by Sandy would be restored to what it was in 1994. Given the typical wear and tear that beaches go through over 20 years, the current work will leave the beaches in better shape than they were before the storm hit, says Chris Gardner, the Corps' New York District spokesman.
This fall, when work is set to begin on the first of 18 authorized but unconstructed projects, the focus will turn to elevating beaches, widening berms, adding dunes behind the berms and other means of bolstering shoreline protection, Gardner says. This phase of work is estimated to total about $2.77 billion and take roughly two years to be completed.
In New York, it will include the Seagate community on Coney Island's west side, which will likely be the first to start, followed by the first of multiple contracts for the town of Long Beach on Long Island. In southern New Jersey, work is expected to start either in Absecon or South Ocean City.
"The main difference between this shoreline work and [projects done in] previous years is the sheer magnitude of trying to get so much work done in one time frame," says Steve Rochette, spokesman for the Corps' Philadelphia District, which manages five New Jersey projects. "In terms of geography, every coastline is unique in terms of grain size and slopes, and we work to match projects to the natural conditions of specific areas."
A Closer Look
Numerous studies are also under way on developing coastal-resilient communities. These studies are in various stages of completion; one analyzing impacts to the shoreline in Highlands, N.J., is set for completion next year. "Each of these studies will paint a very clear picture … and propose a flood-risk management program for communities," Gardner says.
The Corps' more comprehensive study of the North Atlantic coastal impacts is set for completion in January. It will consider factors including climate change and rising sea levels and address flood risks of vulnerable coastal populations in Sandy-hit areas. It will also evaluate performance of nature-based infrastructure during Sandy as well as other severe weather and include a coastal framework, storm suite modeling, coastal geographic information system analysis and related evaluations. Col. Paul E. Owen, the Corps' New York district commander, told an industry group on Feb. 12 that the study will identify "areas of future concern," particularly those where the agency now has no authorized projects. This includes Manhattan, where there is "lots of damage," he says.
The agency also is working on some small post-Sandy shoreline projects, valued at $5 million to $7 million, through its Continuing Authorities Program.
Funding for the studies, the federal flood control projects including operations and maintenance work, as well as initial construction of 10 of the 18 authorized but unconstructed projects is fully covered by the U.S. government through the Sandy relief funding package approved by Congress last year. Remaining projects will be funded through cost sharing with state and local governments.
Forcina says that having the federal funding is a huge plus since all Corps projects are conducted in cooperation with state and local entities. He adds that starting these projects with the costs already covered "takes the burden off the local community" and will give the Corps the necessary resources to move forward.
Owen says the challenge will be "integrating all the projects into a regional solution that is complimentary and not competing."