East Rockaway Beach Emergency Nourishment Overcomes Obstacles
By LaDonna Davis
Public Affairs Specialist
U.S. Army Corps Engineers
New York District
When the sun is shining, the temperatures are rising and the waves are crashing, beach-goers everywhere know it’s the call of the summer season. But when the unexpected happens and the beach is washed away, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are called upon to help.
The unexpected happened in November 2009, when Rockaway Beach, in Queens, New York, was hit hard with a series of nor’easters that caused erosion and severe damage to the beach. What started out as a maintenance project for the Corps of Engineers New York District, quickly turned into an emergency restoration project.
“The Corps regularly maintains the federal navigation channel located in East Rockaway Inlet by performing maintenance dredging every two years,” said Joe Olha, Corps project manager for East Rockaway Inlet federal navigation channel maintenance. “After we dredge the channel, we place the sand in a location where it will be the most environmentally beneficial as well as cost effective; this is usually between 26th and 36th streets on the beach.”
But due to the damage that the nor’easters caused, New York City Parks and Recreation, the agency responsible for managing Far Rockaway Beach, asked the Corps to detour from their periodic maintenance location, and instead help build up the most devastated beach area between 92nd and 103rd street.
“Following the storm, the beach was pretty much nonexistent in that area, especially during high tide,” said Jill Webber, Rockaway Administrator for New York City Parks and Recreation. “We feared we wouldn’t be able to open the beach during the summer, which would have been very sad because it’s a very popular area,” she said.
Parks and Recreation’s request didn’t fall on deaf ears, and with a determination to rectify the situation, Col. John R. Boule, New York District Commander, and Congressman Anthony Weiner committed to restore the beach before the official start of summer – Memorial Day 2010.
“When the Corps agreed to replenish the beach we felt hopeful because it meant that we would have a beach for the summer,” Webber stressed. “We know that this isn’t a long term solution, the sand will probably gone in a couple of years or during the next big storm. But we know we will have a beach for this season and maybe next season.”
MORE MONEY NEEDED
The Corps only has $3 million in funds allocated for this cyclical maintenance dredging and sand pumping between 26th and 36th streets. Because extra pipe would be needed to place the sand further west, the Corps estimated that an additional $1.5 million would be needed to pump sand between 92nd and 103rd streets. These funds would have to come from a non-federal sponsor. This pushed the total project cost to $4.5 million. Fortunately Parks and Recreation agreed to be the non-federal sponsor and pay the additional $1.5 million needed to pump the sand; unfortunately, $1.5 million was only the initial government estimate.
Once the contractors, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock (GLDD), came back with the bid for the actual costs, it was realized that it could actually take an additional $2.3 million, not $1.5 million, to pump the sand, money NYCPR didn’t have.
“In order to begin work, a Contributed Funds Memorandum of Agreement (CFMOA) needed to be signed between the Corps and NYCPR. This type of agreement does not require Corps Headquarters approval and this was crucial, due to the time frame we had to complete work,” stressed Olha. “The only problem with a CFMOA is that the work being performed needed to be $2 million or less and the extra costs to pump the sand was $2.3 million.”
The Corps continued to negotiate with GLDD, in hopes of finding a solution to the money issue. But with time ticking away decisions had to be made, so the CFMOA was signed in hopes of finding an alternative cost effective and environmentally friendly solution.
BIRD HABITAT CONSIDERED
One of the Corps missions is to be good environmental stewards by taking into consideration the environmental consequences of any Corps project and acting accordingly. At Rockaway Beach there are several endangered bird species that nest along the beach during the spring months. While looking for alternative cost effective solutions to pumping the sand all the way up to 103rd street, the Corps had to consider the wildlife that could be affected by their work. Because of this, options were limited.
The alternative solution? Stockpile the sand on 9th street and truck it all the way to 92nd street. While this solution was both environmentally friendly and economical, keeping the additional project costs less than $2 million, it wasn’t necessarily the most time effective. The amount of sand needed to rebuild the beach is 121,000 cubic yards, and each dump truck can carry 15 to 20 cubic yards. It would take 6,000 to 8,000 truckloads of sand over several months to replenish the degraded beach, moving the date of completion closer to August.
“It would take at least three months to complete the project by using trucks to dump the sand on the beach, as opposed to pumping the sand from a dredge, which would only take a couple of weeks to complete or less,” said William Vantertpool, a project engineer for the Corps. “The goal was to complete the beach by Memorial Day; we would have failed to accomplish that goal by using the trucks.”
A SERIES OF OBSTACLES
Just as the unexpected is what started this project, the unexpected is what made the project move forward. According to the terms of the contract between GLDD and the New York District Corps of Engineers, GLDD was obligated to begin work at East Rockaway Inlet around February 2010, but due to bad weather and other contractual obligations, GLDD said they would not be able to get their dredges to East Rockaway until the end of April, which would put them in violation of their contract. Due to this unexpected turn of events, the Corps was able to negotiate with GLDD to provide the dredging and sand pumping needed at a reduced costs.
“It took some tough negotiations to work out a solution agreeable to both parties but what we were able to arrive at was a solution that allowed Great Lakes to mobilize the dredge at East Rockaway Inlet much later than the Corps contract required, as long as they pumped the sand directly to the Beach 92-103 street area within our budget,” said John Tavolaro, deputy chief of operations for the Corps of Engineers New York District. “This allowed Great Lakes to meet their goal of avoiding a contract dispute and allowed us to meet our goal of providing sand to the beach erosion area prior to Memorial Day. It was a win-win situation for everyone, including beachgoers.”
THE PROJECT PROCEEDS
On May 6, 2010, GLDD moved their dredge Alaska in to East Rockaway Inlet and began placing sand along the Rockaway Beach coastline. The dredging and sand pumping only took 10 days to complete, weeks before the Memorial Day weekend, which met the goal date for NYCPR to open the beach for the summer season.
Though the chances of the sand eventually washing away again is high, for the interim, it will serve its purpose by providing a well restored beach.
“There’s no question this is a short-term solution,” said Olha. “It’s Mother Nature that will wash the sand back into the water - nature rules.”
But, until a more long-term solution can be built, NYCPR was just happy to have a beach for the 2010 season.
“We dealt with a lot of struggles and many obstacles along the way to get this project completed,” said Webber. “But, in the end it all worked out. There were a lot of people that came together from the Corps, and the city to make sure this project got completed and the beach was ready for the summer and we are just thrilled. We have a beach this season, sand for people to lie on and even a place to put a lifeguard stand. The Corps of Engineers New York District has just done a wonderful job. It’s terrific.”
IDR thanks LaDonna Davis, JoAnne Castagna, Joe Ohla and Bill Vanterpool of the Corps of Engineers New York District for this article and illustrations.