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Lawmakers Urge Army Corps To Give More Info, Time On Storm Risk Plans

WAMC, Allison Dunne

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently extended the comment period a second time for plans to manage storm risk in New York and New Jersey. Still, some local officials say it’s not enough. And one state senator is renewing his call for the Army Corps to hold a public session in Westchester County.

The comment period on six conceptual plans for storm risk management now ends November 5. The idea of the feasibility study is to pare down the number of possible plans that range from storm surge barriers to natural, shoreline solutions. The area being studied includes the Hudson River up to Troy. Democrat MaryJane Shimsky is majority whip of the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

“This is as large an engineering project involving moving water that we’ve ever had in the northeastern United States,” Shimsky says.

Shimsky wants the Army Corps to conduct a more in-depth study of a plan that she says could permanently alter the landscape and damage the ecosystem of the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. The Army Corps held five public scoping sessions on its potential coastal storm risk management measures over the summer — two in New York City, two in New Jersey, and one in Poughkeepsie. John Lipscomb is Riverkeeper’s vice president for advocacy.

“No meetings in Staten Island, no meetings in Long Island, no meetings in western Connecticut or the western Long Island Sound communities which will be affected by deflected storm surge if one of those Throgs Neck barriers were built,” says Lipscomb. “So the Corps has utterly failed to engage the public, inform the public.”

The Army Corps did not return a request for comment. Shimsky and other county legislators are asking for the Army Corps to hold more public hearings and release all scientific and design information. Republican state Senator Terrence Murphy agrees, and has been urging the Army Corps to hold a public session in Sleepy Hollow.

“All we’re asking for is the transparency of allowing us a seat at the table to make sure that something that’s coming in our backyard we have knowledge of it and their plans. And so we had asked them to extend the comment period. They have until November 5,” Murphy says. “We still don’t know what type of studies that they’re using, but that’s supposed to come out, I believe, in late November or early December. And all’s we’re asking them is to come up to Westchester, right by where they plan on doing some of these barriers, and hold an informational hearing so we can know what they’re doing.”

Again, Shimsky.

“As local stewards for all of our individual communities in the New York metropolitan area, we need to be able to kick the tires on this,” says Shimsky. “We need to get the information that’s been generated, the reports, the designs, and so on, so we can hire consultants if necessary, or use our own engineering staff to do their due diligence on these plans to determine if any of these could have bad, unforeseen circumstances for a community.”

Lipscomb, who also is Riverkeeper boat captain, says there have been a number of county and municipal resolutions asking the Corps to do a better job with its process.

“And then challenging the Corps to protect against both kinds of flooding, sea level rise and storm surge, and, whatever you do, don’t harm the Hudson,” Lipscomb says. “So we’re seeing the public become informed. We’re seeing the comments come out, but the vast majority of the public are still unaware.”

He explains Congress tasked the Corps with looking into mitigating storm surge and should have included addressing sea level rise. Shimsky says the Board of Legislators is sending a comment letter. Individual legislators will have the option of signing. The Army Corps calls the conceptual plans the New York/New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study.

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