The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stopped a multiyear study of strategies and projects meant to protect the New York City region against catastrophic storm surges and rising seas.
Environmentalists and policy makers received an email from the Corps saying that a Feb. 27 meeting had been canceled, and that work on the study had been indefinitely postponed. “Activities related to the New York New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Study are suspended until further notice,” it said.
Environmentalists and climate-change activists denounced the decision as an abdication of the agency’s responsibility.
Planners had been looking at nature-based and engineering projects designed to protect the New York-New Jersey coast from rising seas and the costly damage that could result from a catastrophic storm, said Robert Freudenberg, vice president of energy and environment programs at the Regional Plan Association in New York.
“This is a devastating blow to our region and its ability to become resilient and defend itself against extreme storms,” Freudenberg said. “Without this we will continue to have a debate without action about which strategy to pursue. We will remain as vulnerable as we are today, with 2 million people and a multitrillion-dollar economy at risk from floods.”
The decision follows several policy moves by President Donald Trump’s administration -- including holding up approval of a Hudson River tunnel and suspension of New York airport “trusted traveler” applications -- that Democratic politicians contend are aimed at punishing New York.
“This is dangerous,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “It’s another of Donald Trump’s blatant political hits on New York City.”
U.S. Army Corps spokesman James D’Ambrosio said the study was stopped because it lacked funding in the current fiscal year. “In any given year, if Congress decides to not fund something, that effort stops,” D’Ambrosio said. The study “has to compete for funding with all the other studies in the Corps’ fiscal year work plan.”
The decision means that an interim report scheduled for this summer will be indefinitely postponed,“ he added. The Corps will continue to work with New York and New Jersey “to ensure further coastal storm risk reduction,” he said, without giving details.
Angelo Roefaro, a spokesman for U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, noted that the Trump administration, not Congress, omitted the funding. Roefaro said supporters in Congress would try to fund the study. In a prepared statement, Schumer, the Senate minority leader who represents New York, said “the administration is being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
The $19 million study, funded by the U.S. government, New York and New Jersey, was to last at least six years. It began in 2016, four years after Hurricane Sandy hammered the East Coast. It flooded hundreds of homes, killed 72 people and caused billions of dollars of infrastructure damage.
Oceanographers and those advocating to address climate change say that the effects of Sandy could be eclipsed by a future storm.
The Corps decision stalls a proposal to build a five-mile retractable storm-surge barrier that could close off New York harbor, stretching from Long Island’s Rockaways to the New Jersey coast.
Estimates of its cost have dropped to about $62 billion from $119 billion, said Malcolm Bowman, an oceanographer at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who met with members of the Corps’ New York office last week. Similar, smaller barriers have protected the Netherlands, St. Petersburg, Russia, New Orleans and other coastal cities.
Bowman, who supports construction of the storm-surge barrier, said rising seas and climate change will force officials to reopen the proposal to build such a project.
“Any solution that does not plug the two ocean portals to the harbor is fatally flawed and will only hasten the end of the city as we know it,” Bowman said.
The cost of the dam-like barrier in New York and its potential impact on marine and river life made the plan controversial. Yet both advocates and detractors denounced the Corps move, saying it would leave the region vulnerable.
Jessica Roff, director of advocacy and engagement for the environmental group Riverkeeper, which opposed the storm-surge barrier, said the Corps decision “represents a complete abdication of their responsibility.”
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