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Army’s Five-Mile Seawall to Protect Staten Island Hits Another Delay

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Emergency responders help people evacuate their Midland Beach, Staten Island homes after Superstorm Sandy.

Ben Fractenberg/DNAinfo

Announced five years ago in Superstorm Sandy’s long wake, a massive seawall meant to protect Staten Island’s East Shore is still more than five years away, thanks to another months-long delay.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now estimates that the five-plus-mile, $615 million East Shore Seawall, won’t be finished until the end of 2025. Work is expected to start early next year.

“[The project] is extremely complex and requires coordination between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, State of New York, City of New York,” said Vincent Elias, a spokesperson for the Army Corps. “There are significant design efforts that need to take place, as well as project refinements that are underway.”

A shifting timeline has plagued the coastal defense project since its inception. A year ago, the Army said the seawall would be completed in the winter of 2024, but moved that date to early 2025 in November.

The urgency of the embankment, which would stretch from the foot of the Verrazzano Bridge at Fort Wadsworth to Oakwood Beach, is twofold for Staten Islanders. The seawall, intended to protect thousands of residents from rising waters, will also trigger decreases in flood insurance premiums for East Shore neighborhoods once the project is half built.

A U.S. Army Corp of Engineers map shows where a seawall would protect East Shore neighborhoods on Staten Island.

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers

In March, East Shore residents expressed frustration to the Army Corps’ representatives over the seemingly ever-moving goal posts. 

“People want this to happen now — they want it to happen yesterday,” said Joseph McAllister, president of the South Beach Civic Association. 

The National Flood Insurance Program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, can increase its premiums by as much as 18% annually, meaning the price of a policy can easily double within six years. Rep. Max Rose (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn), who previously told THE CITY that his constituents say flood insurance is becoming unaffordable, has proposed legislation to cap increases at 9%.

Some Staten Islanders seem to agree: since the end of 2013, there’s been an 18% drop in homeowners who hold flood insurance policies. If those homeowners received FEMA aid after Superstorm Sandy, they’ll be ineligible for future funds from the agency.

Up the Creek

Joe Papandrea, a 69-year-old South Beach resident, told THE CITY that he’s in that boat — and his long term solution is moving to Georgia.

“Everytime the Sandy anniversary comes around I think to myself, ‘I might be up s---’s creek’ — you know? But it is what it is. I can’t pay all that,” said Papandrea, who noted that he’s stopped listening to new timeline estimates of the seawall. “And what would I be paying for exactly? A lot of people here weren’t helped last time around.”

‘I can’t pay all that.’

In a joint statement to THE CITY, Rose and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo said that they’ve pressed the Army Corps to award at least the project’s first contract this year. The duo noted Staten Islanders can’t afford any more lost time.

“After years of delay, our offices have been working closely with Governor [Andrew] Cuomo and others to ensure that this project is completed as scheduled,” the two politicians said. “Through our efforts, contracts have been moved up and are now set to be awarded this year even though there are numerous challenges as a result of the pandemic. We will not accept any delays and will continue to use every resource available to us to get the project finished on time.”

Contract Changes

The plan calls for a 5.3 mile-long embankment that will include an elevated promenade with a boardwalk that provides access to Midland and South Beach. The wall will be built via eight contracts — up from seven, since the planned road closure gate on Hylan Boulevard has been separated into its own contract, though details have yet to be determined.

The first contract will now be the 20-foot levee and tidal gate portion of the project near Great Kills Park, expected to be awarded in December and start early next year. The second contract will now be the floodwall, with construction slated to get under way in May. Both are expected to take two years to complete. 

The fourth contract, which doesn’t have a timeline and is slated to start at the end of 2021, will create interior drainage in South Beach.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to build a buried seawall along Staten Island’s South Beach boardwalk.

Clifford Michel/THE CITY

The third, fifth, sixth and seventh contracts remain unchanged. They include creating pondings for interior drainage, a buried seawall, new boardwalk, a promenade, pondings for interior drainage, and improving Miller Field’s swamp white oak wetlands.

The contracts are all scheduled to start in late 2021, except the sixth, which is set for late 2022.

While the project was first proposed in 2015, the Army Corps was initially unable to complete the design. That’s because the Department of the Interior said it was legally barred from giving the Army Corps access to Miller Field, a federal park in the proposed seawall’s path.

Rose and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) prevailed on Congress to pass legislation in February 2019 allowing the Army Corps onto the site.

The Army Corps prepped the land by mowing down overgrown phragmites in South Beach in January, and is currently spraying weeds between Oakwood Beach and New Dorp, with plans to move on to Midland Beach next month.

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