Advocates celebrate breakthrough in campaign to overhaul flawed Army Corps flooding plan for NY-NJ Harbor
New York State directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide comprehensive flood protection to safeguard communities and the region, as requested by a coalition of over 50 organizations
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – November 13, 2023 – Today, a broad group of environmental, civic, and environmental justice organizations celebrate New York State’s action requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to better protect communities and the region from damaging and frequent flooding harms. In response to demands from the public as well as state and federal elected officials, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) last week sent a letter to overhaul the $52.6 billion storm surge protection plan proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The State’s letter triggers a required process in federal law for the Corps to holistically study and provide solutions to address frequent tidal and river flooding, heavy rainfall, groundwater emergence, erosion, sea level rise, and storm surge as a part of the Corps’ New York- New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Study. The state’s letter joins concerns raised by a group of 14 bipartisan Members of Congress and 38 New York State legislators.
Specifically, the Corps must:
- Undertake a “multi-hazard” assessment of the projects in the study, considering all sources of flooding – from heavy rainfall to groundwater inundation to sea level rise – consistent with the requirements of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022;
- Issue a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, for public review and comment, that includes the new analyses and new or modified alternatives; and
- Finalize a plan only after completing the above.
NYSDEC also directed the Corps to:
- Adopt a phased, adaptive management approach, allowing for project modifications based on environmental assessments and community and stakeholder feedback
- Move individual project elements forward as they are ready, not trying to move the entire suite as one project
- Hire an external firm to lead outreach and engagement with environmental justice communities, and engage in regular, substantive public discussions
This significant step prevents taxpayers from spending $52.6 billion on the country’s most expensive coastal infrastructure plan and have it only protect the region from one kind of flooding – storm surge. More than 50 organizations in New York and New Jersey have been campaigning for these critical changes to the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Study plan, stating that the Corps needs to study solutions that reduce risk and vulnerability from all kinds of flooding, prioritize protections for environmental justice communities, and incorporate nature-based and nonstructural features whenever possible.
We applaud NYSDEC Commissioner Basil Seggos for his leadership to make sure all of the region’s flooding is considered in a comprehensive analysis. New York City has also indicated support for a more multi-hazard approach and improvements to public engagement.
"Now is the moment to fix the Army Corps plan and get the smart, comprehensive flood protections we truly need for New York and New Jersey. Riverkeeper and our partners across the metropolitan region are united in this call for a more effective and just approach, not the massive sea barriers and walls the Army Corps is proposing,” said Riverkeeper President Tracy Brown. “We applaud New York State DEC for stepping up and insisting on a plan that is better for our communities and better for our environment, as Congress has mandated. At this critical juncture we need to get this right."
“We applaud New York State in calling for a comprehensive approach to flooding — one that prioritizes sound science and engagement with at-risk communities. By requesting changes to this project, we can minimize inequities and costly damage, as well as help communities build the future they deserve,” said Kate Boicourt, director for Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds New York-New Jersey program. “This commitment invokes changes that Environmental Defense Fund, the Rise to Resilience coalition and many partners have fought for in recent years, now setting a precedent for the role environmental, civic and environmental justice advocates can play in future projects.”
“No Army Corps plan can advance without the full buy-in and support from its non-federal sponsors,” said Robert Freudenberg, Vice President for Energy & Environment at Regional Plan Association. “By requesting critical changes to the plan’s approach in its letter to the Army Corps, one of those sponsors - New York - has signaled its alignment with what advocates have been calling for all along: a plan that addresses multiple flooding hazards, not just storm surge, a phased approach to planning and implementation, and better engagement, particularly with environmental justice communities. This is a significant and meaningful step forward toward a better plan and we applaud New York State for taking it, and urge the Army Corps to proceed with a multi-hazard approach that minimizes the impact of flooding for all communities.”
"Logic has prevailed. A one-hazard solution will not propel New York and New Jersey communities forward" said Amy Chester, Managing Director of Rebuild by Design. "Thank you New York State for advocating on behalf of our communities for better, more comprehensive solutions."
“On behalf of our member organizations, the SWIM Coalition applauds the NYSDEC for supporting our calls for the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a more comprehensive, multi-hazard study prior to advancing any work on the NY-NJ Harbor,” said Leonel Lima Ponce, Chair, Steering Committee for the SWIM Coalition. “We have long sought solutions that respond to climate change while also working to improve water quality around NYC. We continue to encourage additional and deep community engagement, inclusive of local waterbody advocates and overburdened waterfront residents."
“We’re grateful for Commissioner Seggos’ leadership, calling for protections to address numerous damaging flood concerns to protect our homes, communities and beloved parks,” said Lauren Cosgrove, Rockaway resident and Northeast Campaign Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Corps must do better – our way of life depends on the success of this proposal. We need a plan with layers of protection that includes upgraded infrastructure, building retrofits and nature-based solutions, not massive concrete barriers that will make flooding worse.”
"We are past due for large scale investment to protect our city from flooding," said Willis Elkins, Executive Director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, "but a multi-billion dollar investment needs to address all forms of flood risk and be done so in close conjunction with local communities to properly address their needs and concerns."
“As a critical partner in the development of a comprehensive resilience plan for the New York and New Jersey Harbor region, New York State has made it clear the Army Corps' New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Study (HATS) must adopt a multi-climate hazard lens. A project of this caliber must incorporate solutions that protect our residents, infrastructure, and natural ecosystems from risks beyond just storm surge. Waterfront Alliance and the Rise to Resilience Coalition have long called for meaningful community empowerment and a more adaptive, iterative approach to this study. We are proud of the sustained advocacy of this Coalition and look forward to continuing to work together toward a better plan for the future of our harbor,” said Cortney Koenig Worrall, President and CEO, Waterfront Alliance.
“New York State’s letter requires the Army Corps to prepare a fuller, more inclusive HATS study, in which serious, present-day threats like rain-driven and sunny-day flooding will be put on equal footing with storm surge, and where community expertise will finally get the respect it deserves,” said Paul Gallay and Victoria Sanders of the Resilient Coastal Communities Project, a partnership between the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and the Columbia Climate School. “This will be well worth the effort. Indeed, it’s the only way the HATS Study can responsibly address the increasingly serious and complex flood risks facing our communities and ecosystems, while prioritizing protections for environmental justice communities and integrating meaningful partnerships with frontline communities at every step of the way.”
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