In one of his first news conferences after Sandy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie touted a Corps of Engineers project in Avalon, crediting it for minimizing damage to a vulnerable beach town that was otherwise exposed to the worst of the wind and ocean surge churned up by the storm.
I-Team: Federal Flood Protection Projects Delayed, Unfunded
By Chris Glorioso and Tom Burke
Published Nov 19, 2012 at 5:36 PM | Updated at 8:52 AM EST on Nov 21, 2012
Federal projects intended to help protect New York and New Jersey towns from hurricanes and coastal flooding have languished – many unfunded -- for decades, the I-Team has learned.
The stalled projects, often approved by Congress as far back as the 1980s and 90s, were intended to study the feasibility of manmade barriers like seawalls, marshlands or large sand dunes to protect coastal areas on Staten Island as well as the Rockaways, Long Island and the Jersey shore.
One such study, aimed at making recommendations for flood barriers along the south shore of Staten Island, remains unfinished even though it was commissioned in 1993.
The south shore of Staten Island was the scene of some of the worst damage caused by Sandy.
"This system is broken. It needs to be fixed. It needs to be overhauled,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm. “Something gets approved and then it gets lost. It's almost like putting it in a bottomless pit and it never gets done."
Earlier this year – and months prior to Sandy – Grimm wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers imploring the agency to complete the study, called the “South Shore of Staten Island, New York – Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project.” The Army Corps predicted the report would be finished by 2014.
“The government, at all levels -- the city, state, and federal -- has done this time and time again," Grimm said.
The project is supposed to review flood protection options for 13 miles of coast on Staten Island from Fort Wadsworth to Tottenville – some of the areas hardest hit by Sandy.
According to the Corps of Engineers’ description, the area of study is “increasingly vulnerable to severe damage even from moderate storms.”
Despite approval in 1993, the study itself did not begin until August 2000, but then was “delayed the last few years due to lack of federal and non-federal funding,” according to the Corps of Engineers
In 2010, as part of the federal stimulus package, the study received a $550,000 funding boost, but two years later it remains incomplete.
The Corps of Engineers said in a statement that the study is "active and is in the latter stages."
"The recommendation will likely include some system of seawalls and levees along the shore, but the best way to manage interior flooding from storms is still being evaluated," the statement said.
The Staten Island flood study isn’t the only one that’s been stalled while the threat of more violent climate patterns looms.
The I-Team found eight other Army Corps of Engineers projects designed to help minimize damage to areas now left in wreckage by Sandy. All eight projects have been delayed due to lack of funds from Congress and, at times, from local partners.
The project areas include Rockaway Peninsula, the south shore of Long Island, Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay in New Jersey.
The official description of one study -- along the East Rockaway Inlet and Long Beach Island in New York – said the project would “provide coastal storm damage risk reduction to the highly developed communities that are subject to direct wave attack and inundation during major storms and hurricanes.”
The study was approved in 1986, and preconstruction, engineering and design was completed in 1997, but it was then held up by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, which requested further study.
With that complete, the project now awaits approval and funds for the construction phase, but there is no telling how Sandy will alter or further delay those plans.
"They're saying 'This is going to help. This is going to help,'” said Diane Hague, whose Staten Island home was destroyed by flooding. “Yeah it would, if you did it."
Hague believes if the promised projects were completed, her home, which was more than a quarter of a mile from the water, might still be standing.
"There's nothing that they could have done to stop the wind and the rain, but could it have been prevented from doing the damage that it did?” said Hague. “I think so."
Two completed projects were recently lauded for protecting communities, including a seawall in Stamford, Conn. that the Corps of Engineers estimates prevented $25 million dollars in damage to the town.