It's on us. Share your news here.

$52B plan meant to protect NYC from storm surge: ‘Sacrifice zones’ among environmentalists’ concerns

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' image released Sept. 22 shows an artist's rendering of what a possible flood barrier could like near the Kill Van Kull.

Posted on April 3, 2023

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a herculean project they say will protect the New York City and New Jersey coastline in the coming decades as climate change raises tides and threatens communities.

The agency is now refining the initiative’s exact scope, but some local environmental groups are pushing back against the multi-billion dollar plan that is coming into focus.

The “NY-NJ Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study” (HATS) report published last year detailed five possible alternatives for the project plan, each with a range of measures, such as storm surge barriers in the waterways surrounding Staten Island and sea walls in areas along the borough’s coastline.

The tentatively-selected proposal, known as Alternative 3B, has a $52.7 billion price tag, would create 2.2 miles of storm surge barriers — including massive structures at the mouth of the Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill — and install more than 50 miles of shoreline mitigation measures.

Planning for the project began as a study in 2016 but was paused in 2020 when the Trump administration slashed funding; the Biden administration restarted the effort with a new influx of financial support.

This latest Army Corps effort is separate from its years-long and delay-laden East Shore Seawall project centered on protecting borough communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy more than a decade ago. It would also join the South Shore Living Breakwaters coastal protection project that broke ground in 2021.


A consortium of 10 major environmental groups comprising the area affected by the study came out in opposition of the Army Corps proposal in a 14-page letter submitted in mid-March.

Four central concerns — a narrow focus on storm surge, over-reliance on in-water barriers, creation of sacrifice zones and combined sewer overflow issues — were highlighted as critical oversights and underscore the significant complexity surrounding efforts to holistically combat the insidious effects of global warming.

Because the Army Corps’ mandate has been to address storm surge in its proposal, the environmental groups said the agency “missed the mark at protecting our communities from many aspects of future storms and climate,” effectively not addressing future projected sea level rise — a growing concern for New York City that would not be mitigated with barriers only in effect during major storms.

The letter noted the tentatively selected plan over-relies on in-water barriers and claims it does not adequately use natural-based features like berms and inland green infrastructure to protect neighborhoods and lower the risk of flooding. That over-reliance, the groups said, also poses stark ecological challenges.

While the plan would benefit some areas, it would leave some environmental justice communities without protection, according to the letter, “effectively turning them into sacrifice zones in the event of a major storm.” The failure to address those concerns “is gravely short-sighted,” the groups continued.

The environmental organizations said the project “hyper-focuses on potentially disruptive in-water barriers in many urban tributaries, it leaves others—many of which lie in environmental justice communities—entirely without protection, effectively turning them into sacrifice zones in the event of a major storm.” The joint letter specifically notes numerous areas throughout the Bronx; however, wide swaths of Staten Island’s North Shore are recognized as disadvantaged communities by New York State.

Lastly, as it pertains to combined sewer overflow — a concern during major storms like Hurricanes Sandy and Ida — the groups claimed the Army Corps project does not properly model inland flooding and does not sufficiently coordinate with local management plans to address flooding during extreme weather events.

“As advocates for our watershed and watershed communities, we are acutely aware of our collective need for coastal resilience,” read the letter. “Unfortunately, this $52 billion plan will mitigate only part of our coastal storm surge risk and fails to address other serious aspects of intensified storms and sea level rise.”


Staten Island-based environmentalists have expressed notable concerns over the cost and management of the tentatively-selected plan.

James Scarcella, president of the Natural Resources Protective Association (NRPA), submitted comment on behalf of the organization, which includes a combination of environment and conservation groups.

“Specially, the storm surge ’barriers’ are an error-filled undertaking, with rampant destruction of marine biota, prohibitive costs, significant adverse impacts, and the potential to cause flooding on the inflows of gates, depending on rainfall, current, wind conditions, and worse, the combined sewage overflow (CSO) that accompanies rainfall beyond one-quarter inch volume,” read the comment submitted to the U.S. Army Corps.

Scarcella indicated he maintains concerns over the scope and effectiveness of the project in the long-term, telling the Advance/ the project “just is not thinking into the future.”

The hefty storm surge barriers that would be placed in Staten Island waterways, he said, would be heavily disruptive to the marine environment and would also require notable maintenance even after completion.

Echoing concerns of other environmental groups, Scarcella said he would prefer a greater infusion of green infrastructure that leverages some of Staten Island’s environmental assets, especially on the West Shore.

“They just want to construct in the water instead of using some of the solutions that we might have there already,” said Scarcella.


Construction is slated to begin in 2030 and is expected to be completed by 2044. At that point, New York City could see between 45 and 130 high-flood days. Forecasts predict sea-level rise in the U.S. over the next 30 years will equal the rise seen over the past 100.

The public comment period for the project was extended to March 31, 2023, and will be followed by a span where the Army Corps considers the suggestions before a meeting in June. Comments can be submitted via email or mail.

Then, a final feasibility report will be reported in January 2024. Before ground is broken on any work, federal, state and local regulators will have to green-light the efforts.

Staten Island faces impending challenges caused by human-induced climate change.

The Advance/, through a multi-part series centered on the local effects of climate change and the efforts being done to change the planet’s course, explored how the borough could see transitions that fundamentally shift the lives of everyday residents.

Part of those changes include more extreme rainfall events coupled with sea level rise. Those combined impacts, experts said, place residents in danger regardless of their proximity to the coast and underscore the urgent need to develop and implement mitigation measures at an unprecedented scale.


It's on us. Share your news here.
Submit Your News Today

Join Our
Click to Subscribe