The Divide: Hudson River could be in danger from the US Army Corps of Engineers

The Divide: Hudson River could be in danger from the US Army Corps of Engineers

Two years ago, the U. S. Coast Guard proposed to construct 10 new anchorage sites along the Hudson River to be mostly used as ‘parking lots’ for crude oil tankers and barges traveling up and down the Hudson. The Coast Guard received more than 10,000 comments opposing the proposal. Local, state and federal elected officials heeded the call of their constituents and pressured the Coast Guard to reverse course and sink the proposal. The public won this battle, but now another one is on the horizon: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing six different plans to “manage the risk of coastal storm damage” to New York Harbor and the Hudson Valley. Plans that some believe will lead to the “death” of the mighty Hudson River.

Before getting into some of the particulars of the proposals put forth by the Army Corps to protect us from storm surges in the future, I just have to point out the obvious divide within Trump’s administration regarding climate change: Is climate change real or not? The recently resigned, under-too-many-to-count ethical lapses Environmental Protection Agency head, Scott Pruitt, has denied climate change and has done all in his power to reverse actions already taken or proposed to be implemented to combat climate change. In the meantime, we have the Army Corps proposing actions they see as necessary to protect New York-New Jersey-Hudson Valley from storm surges resulting from the increasing number of catastrophic climate-related storms. Proposals that could cost up to $36 billion to build and as much as $2.5 billion to maintain on a yearly basis. And that’s just for the New York-New Jersey area. The Army Corps proposal for Boston is projected to cost almost $12 billion.

The Army Corps’ “New York – New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study” suggests six alternatives for coastal storm risk management. (A big shout-out to Riverkeeper for bringing this to the public’s attention. I had not heard of the Army Corps’ plans until Riverkeeper sent out an informational email notifying its list of the study and the upcoming scoping sessions.) As of now, there are only three public meetings scheduled on the proposals. Of course, none are to be held in the Capital District. The closest one is in Poughkeepsie, NY on July 11. (The other two meetings were in New York City on July 9, and Newark, NJ on July 10).

The six plans under consideration by the Army Corps are: Alternative 1, which is the obligatory “No Action” alternative that is always presented in environmental impact proposals. Alternatives 2, 3A, 3B and 4 involve outer and inner massive harbor barriers that would block a large part of either the Hudson River or tributaries to the Hudson. Alternative 5 (the only acceptable alternative according to Riverkeeper) relies entirely on shoreline-based floodwalls and levees. “It would protect low-lying communities from both storm surge and flooding from rainstorms like Irene and Lee, while leaving our rivers to flow naturally, as they have for millennia.”

Alternative 5 is the only plan that includes protections from flooding. Alternatives 2, 3A, 3B and 4 are only concerned with storm surge. These four proposals include the building of outer and inner harbor barriers. The barriers will have gates that will open to allow for shipping activities. However, these in-water barriers will do nothing to protect us from rising sea levels. They will hinder, and possibly end, fish migration (Atlantic sturgeon, striped bass, and herring) in the Hudson. The barriers will prevent the tide from flushing New York Harbor causing contamination and the walls could also have the unanticipated effect of restricting heavy rainfall flood waters from leaving the Hudson. According to Riverkeeper, these negative impacts resulting from in-water barriers “would strangle the life out of the river as we know it.”

We do not have to kill our river to save it. Shore-based coastal protections and on-shore resilience plans, as proposed in Alternative 5, are less costly than in-water barriers and offer more flexibility. The proposals contained in Alternative 5 can be adapted as the future effects of climate change and sea level rise projections are evaluated. Some shore-based actions that will help with flooding issues, and will not take the projected 30 years to build like the in-water barriers will take, include elevating roadways, parks, and buildings and constructing deployable flood walls. In-water harbor barriers are pretty much permanent and inflexible.

Riverkeeper is not the only entity opposed to building massive harbor barriers. A report released last month by the Sustainable Solutions Lab at University of Massachusetts Boston, recommends that we should be concentrating on constructing berms, sea walls and using zoning (elevated houses) to protect our cities from storm surges and flooding. Paul Kirshen, the lead author of the Sustainable Solutions Lab study, told State House News Service, “…it doesn’t make sense …to consider any kind of harbor-wide barrier system. It doesn’t make sense for decades, if not ever.” The Boston Green Ribbon Commission noted that big, huge projects, like a harbor barrier, almost always come in way over projected cost, take longer to build than projected, and the future maintenance costs are never fully considered when the proposal is offered as the “best” alternative. This also raises the question of who will be responsible for the maintenance cost once the barrier is in place: The Army Corps? Another federal agency? The state? The city? Maybe, like Trump’s $25 billion border wall, Mexico will pay for it. Not happening, just like Mexico is not going to pay for his wall.

What can we do? We need to let the Army Corps know that the only viable alternative, as currently proposed in its “New York – New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study” is Alternative 5. The public comment period ends on August 20. So, please take immediate action and send your comments to: Nancy J. Brighton, Chief, Watershed Section, Environmental Analysis Branch, Planning Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, 26 Federal Plaza, New York, Room 2151, NY 10279-0090, or via email to NYNJHarbor.TribStudy@usace.army.mil.

The future life of our Hudson River depends on us. Don’t leave it in the hands of Trump, for, like his border wall and trade wars, he neither cares how much taxpayer money is wasted on massaging his ever-growing ego, nor how detrimental his ideas are to America.


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