The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers returned to Poughkeepsie Wednesday to give an update about conceptual plans to manage storm risk for the New York and New Jersey Harbor tributaries, including the Hudson River. And while there are some more details on the plans, there is still a long way to go.
The Army Corps first visited Poughkeepsie in July 2018 as part of a series of public scoping sessions. It was the public’s first chance to hear about conceptual plans that range from storm surge barriers to natural and shoreline solutions. Since then, there was a public comment period that yielded more than 4,000 comments, and a 1,600-page interim report released in February. Peter Weppler is chief of the Environmental Analysis Branch of the Planning Division of the Army Corps’ New York District. He says since July, the Corps has been able to show how it has advanced with its economic and engineering work.
“We wanted to show in the iterative process how we went from the bigger picture to more of a fine-tuned picture. So we actually fine-tuned our, showing what type of gates we’re actually going to use, what the operation would be of those gates, potential maintenance costs,” says Weppler. “When we met in July, none of that was available. It was basically a line or a location on a map. Now we tried to show what the actual features would be.”
The actual type of barrier, gates and shoreline measures such as floodwalls and their specific locations still need to be worked out for an upcoming draft feasibility report, due out in early 2020 and there will be public comment. Erin Doran is senior attorney with Riverkeeper and has been going through the report.
“The alternatives have not changed, and there are still alternatives that are an absolute existential threat to the Hudson River. You have barriers that would go and could potentially close off the river, which relies, obviously, on the tidal exchange. So those alternatives are still in there, but as are alternatives that rely on shore measures,” says Doran. “So something that the Corps could consider moving forward is expanding those onshore alternatives so that the river isn’t harmed but people are still protected from storm surge and, in an ideal world, sea level rise if that were incorporated fully into the study.”
During the presentation, Army Corps officials said the Hudson River is more susceptible to sea level rise than most other areas in the study, and could experience more frequent and severe storm damage. And they say there is $187 billion in potential economic damage over 50 years of the project life if nothing were to be implemented. Meantime, Weppler says the Army Corps has been listening to concerns.
“Well, all our alternatives are ensuring that we minimize or have the most minimal impact to any of the water bodies that we’re looking at within the harbor region," Weppler says. "For the Hudson, for example, one of the big, would be the bigger gates, for example, the Verrazano gate or the big Sandy Hook to Rockaway gate. Now, more than a line in a map, you actually saw that part of the gates had these circulation gates built in, which allow for the maximum circulation while still having structure. And how does that affect the Hudson? It allows the tidal flow for the Hudson to try and remain the same as it is now, which our goal is is not to effect it, to effect it as minimally as possible, which, in case then, would allow the fish to migrate, it would allow the physical parameters the same, sedimentation can go up and down the river. ? and salinity remain the same.”
Doran says area residents and advocates have played a role in getting the Army Corps’ ear.
“It is promising to hear them repeat back concerns that they have heard because at least they’re getting through,” Doran says.
“In July, a lot of the comments that came up were how we are going to negatively affect the ecology,” Weppler says. “People were heard and we were able to take those concepts and put them on the posters we all saw tonight and show that we’re trying to minimize any impact of physical circulation and water quality on the project.”
Elizabeth LoGuidice came from New Baltimore in Greene County.
“Well, I’m concerned about the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on the Hudson River Estuary,” LoGuidice says. “But I’m also concerned about the human response to sea level rise and increasing storms and how our human response may impact the Hudson River estuary and the environmental integrity of the estuary.”
Before the presentation, LoGuidice spent time with the Army Corps’ Weppler, learning more about what was depicted on posters in the back of the room.
“I was tuned in a little bit last year when the initial alternatives came out, but it was good to come back and see the greater detail that is provided in some of the posters here today and also see the presentation,” says LoGuidice. “But I feel like I have to go home and spend time on the Army Corp web site to more fully understand some of the thinking that was shared today.”
A final report due is expected in spring of 2021. And in 2022, the Army Corps chief would recommend a project, and it would be up to Congress to fund and authorize it.
At this point, Riverkeeper’s Doran says there is more transparency in the process, including about the limitations of the feasibility study.
“Especially for the Hudson River watershed, the limitation right now about considering system wide environmental impacts is really, really troubling. So that is something that Riverkeeper has been championing, this need to really to consider this system and to understand how these gates, if they were installed, could impact tidal exchange, fish migration and other aspects of the estuary,” Doran says. “So I think that concern is still front and center and still something that folks in the Hudson Valley should be aware of and vocal about.”
The study area reaches as far north as the Troy Lock and Dam. The presentation in Poughkeepsie came about halfway through the Army Corps’ slate of meetings that kicked off in Westchester County March 12 and wrap up in the Bronx April 17. Most of the meetings were scheduled for New York City and New Jersey.