The Corps of Engineers New York District recently completed sand pumping operations in Coney Island New York.
On October 29 2012 Hurricane Sandy’s 80 mile-per-hour winds and 30-foot high waves pounded the eastern coast of the United States. The storm made its way from Florida up to Rhode Island.
New York and New Jersey which both are within New York District’s area of responsibility. These areas were hit especially hard. The surge of sea water inundated coastal communities flooding roads and transportation systems and damaging electrical facilities causing wide spread power outages.
Immediately after the storm the Corps of Engineers (COE) was on the ground responding both through its own response authorities and providing disaster response assistance for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Corps of Engineers trained response teams from around the nation came to the region to assist the New York District in unwatering subway tunnels providing temporary emergency electrical power to critical facilities removing tons of debris and closing barrier island breaches.
Sandy is also responsible for 60 deaths $19 billion in damage and millions of cubic yards of sand removed from miles of coast. This sand loss makes coastal communities extremely vulnerable to future storms.
In January 2013 Congress signed the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 or the “Sandy Bill” giving COE funding and authority to take steps to restore coastal projects and navigation channels impacted by Sandy and reduce risk from storms to coastal communities in the northeastern U.S. See the article Corps of Engineers Works to Restore Coastline to Post-Sandy Condition and Better in the July/August 2013 issue for a list of contracts awarded in all districts to that date.
The Corps is carrying out this mission in several steps that are being performed simultaneously. Right now Districts in the northeast are repairing and restoring previously constructed coastal projects impacted by Sandy which includes replacing lost sand on beaches. They are also progressing on projects and studies that were underway before Sandy. In addition the COE North Atlantic Division which the New York District is part of is working on the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study that will provide strategies to help reduce risk from coastal storms to coastal communities.
The Corps of Engineers New York District is overseeing a 60 project $3 billion initiative to develop long- and short-term risk reduction strategies for coastal communities.
Bringing Back the Sand
Hurricane Sandy removed more than six million cubic yards of sand from the New York District’s coastal projects in New York and northern New Jersey. The New York District is replacing this sand and restoring previously built dunes and beach berms as well as repairing other risk reduction features like levees and tide gates.
Restoring coastal projects including replacing lost sand is important to reducing coastal storm risks in the future. A beach’s size shape and sand volume help determine how well the beach can reduce risk to a developed community during a storm. These elements of a beach offer a level of natural protection against hurricanes and coastal storms by absorbing and dissipating the energy of breaking waves and storm surge.
The district is replacing the sand that was lost from Sandy plus adding additional sand to restore beach projects back to their originally constructed designs. This means the placement of even more sand than was lost due to Sandy.
The district is dredging 16 million cubic yards of sand from navigation inlets and offshore borrow areas and placing it on five coastal projects in New York and two in New Jersey. As of October 2013 the district has placed an estimated four million cubic yards of sand on beaches within its area of responsibility. The district recently completed sand pumping operations in Coney Island Rockaway Beach with a second sand pumping contract scheduled to begin in January 2014 and are currently placing sand at Gilgo Beach. The district is also repairing a risk reduction project in Oakwood Beach on Staten Island that involves repairing a damaged levee and tide gate. Additional work on Fire Island West of Shinnecock Inlet and Westhampton will begin in 2014.
In New Jersey the district recently completed the first of four sand pumping contracts for the Sea Bright to Manasquan project and will begin work on its Keansburg project in November 2013.The Keansburg Project which includes Keansburg East Keansburg and Laurence Harbor will include sand replenishment and repairs to levees damaged by Sandy. All of this work is expected to be completed by summer 2014.
The Sea Bright to Manasquan project was the world’s largest sand placement project by volume when it was initially constructed from 1994 to 2001. It involved the placement of roughly 20 million cubic yards of sand along roughly 18 miles of New Jersey beaches reducing risks for multiple communities. The district is replacing eight million cubic yards of sand throughout the project area.
Many people are not aware of Sandy’s unseen impacts offshore particularly to navigation channels throughout the region. As part of post Sandy recovery efforts COE is also restoring dozens of navigation channels and structures throughout the northeast that were impacted by Sandy. This includes repairing breakwaters jetties bulkheads and revetments as well as dredging federal navigation channels altered as a result of Sandy.
The New York District has already begun this work in its area and it is all expected to be completed by spring 2015. In order to reduce costs and increase efficiency the district is combining missions by using sand dredged from navigation channels to restore beach projects where feasible.
“We are using the sand that we are removing from the navigation channels and inlets to restore the beaches. So not only are we getting navigational benefits but also beach benefits. Since we don’t have to send out a dredge specifically to gather sand to restore a beach we are saving money that can be used for other Sandy projects” John Tavolaro deputy chief Operations Division New York District U.S Army Corps of Engineers said.
Pre-Sandy Coastal Work
For years the New York District has maintained coastal projects in New York and New Jersey and while the massive storm overwhelmed most coastal risk reduction projects they still helped mitigate damages during the storm.
“Our projects are designed to reduce the level of damage from more frequent lower in- tensity storms but I do believe our coastal projects did minimize Sandy’s impact” Ciorra said. “Areas that had our projects fared better than areas that didn’t. Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie mentioned this. These projects didn’t totally eliminate damages but definitely minimized them.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed. His office stated the COE risk reduction project at Plumb Beach along the Belt Parkway in southern Brooklyn likely prevented a breach of the adjacent highway thus protecting a vital transportation link.
Work on the first phase of the Plumb Beach Project included building a dune and beach berm to reduce risks to the highway and was done just before Sandy hit. Work on the second phase that includes construction of groins and a breakwater to ensure the longer term resiliency of the dune and beach berm is ongoing and will be done by the end of 2013.
Westhampton along the south shore of Long Island New York was another area where a New York District project performed well during Sandy. “In Westhampton where we had constructed a dune and berm there was less damages to that community than in nearby areas that didn’t have any projects” Ciorra said.
Even projects not necessarily designed to reduce risk like the New York District’s restoration of marsh islands in Jamaica Bay New York may provide a blueprint for future approaches to coastal storm damage risk reduction.
“Marsh islands can act as a natural protective buffer to the mainland behind them during storms by absorbing wave energy” Lisa Baron New York District project manager said.
When Hurricane Sandy hit the New York District also had several projects authorized by Congress for construction but not built. Some factors contributing to this included the lack of federal or non-federal funding lack of local support or local opposition. The district also had several studies underway looking at coastal risk reduction for communities in New York and northern New Jersey.
After Sandy and with funding from the Sandy Bill the New York District is working on coordinating with local partners and moving the unconstructed projects toward construction and advancing the ongoing studies while incorporating lessons learned from Sandy.
The Sandy Bill called on the Corps of Engineer regional North Atlantic Division to study ways to help reduce risk from storms to coastal communities throughout the northeastern United States.
The division has assembled a team of professionals from its district offices federal state and local agencies and academia to collaborate on the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study.
The team is studying the 31000 miles of coast from Northern Virginia to Maine that falls under the division’s responsibility. Its goal is to come up with a framework of strategies that can be used by agencies to protect coastal communities adversely affected by Sandy.
It is studying 38 coastal areas to see how they can be better protected by using various measures such as dunes flood walls and bulk- heads just to name a few. Presently the team is considering almost 30 different risk management measures including some of the strategies proposed by the City of New York in its recently published report from its Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency.
“We are trying to place the right combination of measures in the right coastal locations based on the area’s infrastructure population social and environmental vulnerabilities” Lynn Bo- camazo engineering division U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District who is on the team said.
Donald E. Cresitello planning division U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District who is also on the team said “There is a lot of interest in this study especially from communities severely impacted by Sandy and have no federal projects or studies in their area. They want to be assured they are going to be included in the study and have some risk reduction from future storms. This study looks at those areas.”
Ciorra who is not on the team added “Most of our projects are designed to reduce the level of damage from more frequent lower intensity storms. The study may look at storms like Sandy that may become more frequent in the future. Because of this the team may have to develop a more robust plan for these projects because the storm that we estimated as being a 500-year storm event may now be a 100-year storm event.” A 100-year storm event is a storm that has a one percent chance of occurring in any given year.
The study will be completed in January 2015. A draft of the study will be available to the public for review and comment this winter. To view the draft and receive regular study updates visit: http://www.nad.usace.army.mil/ CompStudy.
“What’s going to be beneficial from this study is that it will provide agencies valuable information they can use to save time and resources on future studies. The environmental and economic analysis and models that will come from this study will already be prepared for others to benefit from” Bocamazo said.
To learn more about the Post-Hurricane Sandy work the Corps of Engineers’ New York District is performing visit: www.nan.usace.army.mil/Sandy.