Posted on December 14, 2022
A massive price tag increase won’t stop a coastal resiliency project vital to the East Shore’s future thanks to federal legislation updates announced this week.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) worked to include language in this year’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that makes the federal government responsible for 90% of costs exceeding $615 million for the East Shore Seawall, officially known as the South Shore of Staten Island Coastal Storm Risk Management Project.
Talk of the project dates back decades, but meaningful funding for the project came in 2016′s WRDA after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Island’s East Shore.
State and city governments will be responsible for 35% of the costs up to that $615 million threshold, but with the reduced burden after that, Schumer expects the federal legislation to save the city and state hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Following Hurricane Sandy, we have fought hard for this much-needed barrier of protection against future superstorms,” Schumer, the Senate majority leader, said. “I haven’t stopped fighting for the seawall to be built ASAP — and I will keep fighting until the last stone is in place and this community is fully protected.”
Overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project’s initial authorization in 2016 came with a price tag a little over $571 million. A 2019 agreement among the city, state, and federal government upped that total to $615 million.
An Army Corps spokesman said they’re still working on updated costs, but Schumer’s office shared their latest estimate of about $1.67 billion.
That number is nearly the same as the $1.7 billion estimate an official with Mayor Eric Adams’ office shared with the City Council in October.
When asked about the cost increases then, an Army Corps spokesman pointed to price escalation, required design revisions, and material cost increases as some of the reasons for the cost increase.
The WRDA containing the new cost-share arrangement is expected to pass as part of the National Defense Authorization Act before the end of the year.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/South Brooklyn) announced earlier this year that she worked to include language in the WRDA that authorized the Army Corps to move forward with the project despite the increased costs.
“Since coming to Congress, my priority has been to get the Sea Wall project back on track. We reached an agreement on the remediation in Great Kills Park, put an end to the city’s costly redesigns, and secured the remaining federal cost share of the project,” she said. “I’m proud to have worked across party lines to move this critical infrastructure project forward for the protection of my constituents who were devastated by Sandy.”
Project delays related to environmental remediation needed near the park date back to 2020, but early this year, city officials said those conflicts had been resolved.
An NYPD anti-terror flyover in 2005 preparing for a possible “dirty bomb” scenario originally found the radiation around Great Kills Park, which is part of Gateway National Recreation Area. Information about the radiation wasn’t made public until 2006 after a congressional survey.
According to the National Parks Service, New York City chose to landfill the former wetland that now makes up Great Kills Park starting in 1925 in an effort to turn the area into usable property. At the time, waste was commonly used to fill land for such purposes.
The majority of the waste was placed from 1944 to 1948, and the site operated as a city park until 1972 when it transferred to the federal system, according to the Parks Service.
Language in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which passed in 1980, typically precludes the federal government from handling hazardous waste remediation out of a concern for liability.
Despite that, most of the government and elected officials involved had long believed the Corps would be handling the remediation, but that changed in late 2020 causing the conflict.
With the various issues resolved, a spokeswoman for Malliotakis said Tuesday that once the Army Corps finalizes the latest costs for the project, it can start sending out the contracts for the initial phase assuming the other parties are prepared to cover their costs.