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Army Corps Meeting On Managing Storm Risk Raises Concerns

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delivered a presentation in Poughkeepsie Wednesday to a packed room at a community center. Army Corps officials spoke about six conceptual plans to manage storm risk for an area that includes the Hudson River. Environmental groups are concerned.

The Army Corps is evaluating the six plans for the purpose of coastal storm risk management. It all came about after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The plans are conceptual, and include options ranging from storm surge barriers to levees to natural and shoreline solutions. The Poughkeepsie presentation was the last of five scheduled public scoping sessions. Two were held in New York City and two in New Jersey. The conceptual plans are for the New York and New Jersey Harbor Tributaries, an area that includes the Hudson River up to Troy. Peter Weppler is chief of the Environmental Analysis Branch of the Planning Division of the Army Corps’ New York District.

“Based on the information we have to date, we know we won’t be able to have enough information most likely to have one recommendation,” Weppler says. “We’re trying to marry it down to two, which then we would invest our existing resources at the end to evaluate them, to see which is the best answer.”

John Lipscomb is Riverkeeper boat captain and vice president for advocacy.

“We are very concerned that the winnowing down will result in Alternative 2, which is the Sandy Hook to Rockaway barrier, or Alternative 3A, which is the Verrazano and Throgs Neck  and Arthur Kill barrier being the finalists,” Lipscomb says. “If those are the finalists, essentially what we said to the Hudson River is, how do you want to die, firing squad or hangman’s noose.”

He says these alternativeswould close off the harbor and Hudson River from the Atlantic. Lipscomb says one of the alternatives, known as Alternative 5, is acceptable, because it leaves the river alone, and does not threaten tidal flow, species and riverside communities.

“Their process, because of federal legislation, is going to ignore the environmental impacts in the initial assessment,” says Lipscomb. “And we are basically putting the future of the Hudson and the Harbor and western Long Island Sound and the Passaic River and the Meadowlands and the Raritan River and Jamaica Bay in the hands of people whose hands are tied by bureaucratic nonsense. And that’s our problem.”

The conceptual plans lack detail such as the height, width and depth of a particular structure, and they lack fresh environmental impact analyses. Again, Weppler.

“Well, I would say we’re not doing any maybe new specific environmental impact studies.  We’re doing environmental impact analysis, but we want to use existing information that is already done, that is out there by others,” says Weppler. “So, for example, the Riverkeeper themselves, they may have information to give us on fish migration. DEC has information on fish.”

He adds:

“Now that doesn’t mean we’re not doing any new analysis. For example, if we find that one of the alternatives that we pick may impact a specific breeding area for fish, we may go out there  and say, are there specific, are there sturgeon there or are there flounder there, and we’ll do a site specific study to answer that question,” Weppler says. “But, right now, to do the screening, we’re using the existing information.”

During the presentation Army Corps officials offered a timeline, saying the six plans will be reduced to two via a draft report in October, with a final report due in spring of 2021. In the summer of 2022, the Army Corps chief would recommend a project, and it would be up to Congress to fund and authorize it. All along, say Corps officials, public comments would be welcome. Some Ulster County residents in attendance, like Carol Matthews, say the Army Corps should hold public sessions north of Poughkeepsie.

“There are communities up and down the river, and to stop at Poughkeepsie is just bizarre,” says Matthews.

Here’s Weppler.

“We hear everybody’s comments to make more, make more meetings. We’re looking at other avenues. We may be doing webinars and introducing people to that, let people know about the webinars,” says Weppler. “You’re right, based on our time schedule and going back and seeing if there’s going to be an extension or not, we will consider going up north, more north river.”

Again, Matthews.

“We live right off the Rondout, and it’s…” Matthews says.

“Where?” Dunne asks.

“In St. Remy in Kingston. And, according to some of the plans, they would affect tributaries going all the way up as well as possibly access to the river,” says Matthews. “There are wetlands up there.”

Jeff Anzevino is with Scenic Hudson and says some of the plans could be devastating to the Hudson River’s ecology and public access to the river.

“We want to make sure that the Army Corps of Engineers and their partners in this study take a good long look at the project, that everybody has a chance to have input, even north of Poughkeepsie,” Anzevino says. “We agree with people that there are impacts all the way up to the Capital District. There should be meetings up in the Capital District. There should be a process, like there was with the Coast Guard and the barge issue, where there are online comments, where everybody can submit their comments online. Everybody can see what the comments are, so everybody can understand what people are thinking.”

Republican state Senator Sue Serino attended the Poughkeepsie session.

“And it’s very hard, as you could see, Allison, right, we see all these graphs. Graphs don’t say anything, but a picture says a thousand words, and when they showed some of the pictures, it gives you pause,” Serino says. So I’m just, I’m really concerned.”

Serino believes municipalities that could be affected should be able to participate in the scoping sessions. And there are calls to hold meetings south of Poughkeepsie. Republican state Senator Terrence Murphy says meetings should be scheduled for Westchester and Rockland Counties, and has called for a public session in Sleepy Hollow. He also has started an online petition. The Army Corps’ Weppler says outreach will continue.

“And another thing we’re also considering, though, if any specific group wants to invite the Corps in to have a specific meeting with a group, it could be either an NGO; or a specific municipality may want us to come in and talk about something that may and may not affect them, we’re looking to do that,” Weppler says. “It’s just sometimes the resources to put together these meetings together is large, and we want to maximize and be efficient.”

The public comment period ends August 20. Democratic Assemblymember Didi Barrett is among those asking for an extension. Weppler says that’s a decision higher up than the New York District.

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