The Council of the City of New York
Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection

September 12, 2018
Contact: Terence Cullen

Constantinides Urges U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Factor Rising Sea Levels into Plans to Guard New York City Against Storm Surge

New York City Hall — Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, is calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider the existing proposals to protect New York City against confounding storm surges, which currently don’t account for sea levels rising at an alarming pace.  

The public been deprived of sufficient time to comment on the New York/New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study, which could have massive and costly negative effects in the long run. Constantinides underscored this issue in a resolution introduced to the Council on Wednesday that, if passed, would call on the Corps to completely reassess its resiliency plan.

“Rising sea levels pose an extreme, immediate danger for the 500,000 New Yorkers who live near our shores,” said Constantinides. “Frankly, it’s shocking the Corps is giving an incomplete answer to the question of how we make New York City more resilient. The public deserves to give its say on these proposals, which I strongly urge the Corps to reconsider altogether.”

Constantinides urged the federal agency to extend the public comment period 90 days beyond its currently Sept. 20 deadline, citing few hearings in the impacted region, which stretches over 150 miles from Troy, N.Y. to Newark, N.J. Just one of the three public meetings have focused on New York City-specific topics, despite the proposals impacting 300 square miles of the Big Apple.

The Study came after Sandy decimated the coastal region in October 2012, serving as a wakeup call to storm surge and coastal flooding. Current plans laid out in the Study, each estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars, propose gates and barriers at various points in New York Harbor and the Long Island Sound. Sadly, these don’t consider the expected one-foot sea level increase by 2050, contaminants being contained within the harbor, or how wildlife such as striped bass, sturgeon, and eels may see a disruption in their migratory habits.

“The Army Corps’ study has been flawed from the very start: Any coastal storm protection plan must address flooding from sea level rise – not just from storm surge. The massive, in-water barriers included in several of the current alternatives would do absolutely nothing to protect against flooding from sea level rise. And because these giant barriers restrict the tidal flow and migration of fish, they would have catastrophic effects on the life in the Hudson and New York Harbor,” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain and Vice President of Advocacy. “Without the additional information meetings promised by the Corps, along with the disclosure of data, reports, and resources used in its decision making, the comment period should not end.”

Julie A. Welch, Program Manager for the Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (SWIM) Coalition, said: “SWIM Coalition fully supports Council Member Constantinides’ call to extend the comment period on the Army Corp’s storm barrier study and proposals. The public needs more comprehensive information. We can’t comment effectively, as is our legal right, without detailed information and data on the social, economic and environmental impacts of each alternative. The PowerPoint slides and the fact sheet provided to the public to date are completely inadequate. The Corps needs to publish comprehensive information about all the alternatives being considered, including the environmental impacts on the Hudson and the Harbor. We need more public meetings. The meetings recently posted for July 9-11 are too few, announced too late, and were not advertised so that the public would actually be aware. The Army Corps and the other involved agencies need to provide numerous, comprehensive and well advertised public meetings throughout the affected area, which includes Long Island Sound, New York Harbor, New Jersey coastal waters and the Hudson to Troy.”

Constantinides, in an Aug. 29 letter to the Corps, argued citizens should be able to voice their concerns about the Study such as the frequency and duration of barrier closures, the structure heights, and the reliance on a risk-based instead of data-driven assessment.

“This project is likely to be one of the most dramatic undertakings in the New York City metropolitan area for the last century, and will set a course for how the city adapts to the realities of climate change for centuries to come,” Constantinides said in the letter. “We owe it to future generations to ensure that we take the time to get this right.”

Costa Constantinides represents the New York City Council’s 22nd District, which includes his native Astoria along with parts of Jackson Heights, Woodside, and East Elmhurst. He serves as chair of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and sits on four additional committees: Parks, Transportation, For-Hire Vehicles, and Land Use, as well as the sub-committee on Zoning and Franchises.