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Army Corps Spring Creek Projects Aim to Restore Ecosystems, Manage Flood Risks

Published April 18, 2022
Spring Creek Park near Brooklyn, New York.

Spring Creek Park near Brooklyn, New York.

In 2012, thousands of homes in New York City were flooded by Hurricane Sandy. One of many neighborhoods affected by the storm was Howard Beach, in Queens, where the nearby Spring Creek Park and adjacent basins acted as a conduit for ocean waters, flooding residential streets and homes. In the storm’s aftermath, local officials pressed federal and state governments for a solution to prevent future flooding.

Fortunately, Spring Creek Park was already under study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) for aquatic ecosystem restoration. The park’s salt marsh community had been filled in with millions of cubic yards of dredged material during the early 20th century and was further degraded by the site’s use as a landfill. Due to the increase in coastal storm-related damages to the area, the Corps and NYSDEC decided to incorporate coastal flood risk management into the park’s ecosystem restoration study.

Spring Creek Park is divided into two sections: Spring Creek South and Spring Creek North. Spring Creek South falls under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS) and is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Spring Creek North consists of a largely fenced-off section of land under the jurisdiction of the City of New York. The two sites contain degraded wetlands, forests, and grasslands covered with invasive species, including plants like mugwort and Phragmites that form tall, dense stands that smother native vegetation.

Once the Corps and NYSDEC sign a feasibility study cost sharing agreement, they will initiate a new multi-purpose study with NPS this fiscal year, which will be known as the Spring Creek South Jamaica Bay (Howard Beach) Feasibility Study. The study will investigate ecosystem restoration and coastal flood risk management solutions for the site, including tide gates, flood walls, and levees for the Howard Beach Community.  

“The Spring Creek South study presents a unique opportunity to develop a more resilient and sustainable shoreline. The project will advance the Corps’ ‘Engineering With Nature’ initiative by considering natural and nature-based features to provide a buffer to waves, tides, winds, and floods, which will help reduce coastal shoreline erosion and property damage during storm events,” said Lisa Baron, project manager.

Once a project plan is selected, it will be reviewed by the Corps’ divisional and national headquarters. Within a few years, the study’s final report will be sent to Congress for authorization in a future Water Resources Development Act. Congress will then appropriate funds to initiate the project’s pre-construction, engineering, and design phase, and eventual construction.

New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries included language in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act to expedite completion of the Spring Creek South study. The study also received $1.2 million from the 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and $500,000 from the 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

In the northern half of Spring Creek Park, the Spring Creek North Ecosystem Restoration Project is part of the Corps’ Continuing Authorities program. This program authorizes the restoration of areas degraded by previous federal actions – in this case, millions of cubic yards of material dredged from Jamaica Bay. In 2018, the New York District’s divisional headquarters approved the final feasibility report and executed an agreement with NYC Parks and Recreation to restore the 47-acre site.

The project is currently in the engineering and design phase, with construction planned for 2023. Project work will remove invasive species, excavate 6-8 feet of historic dredged and landfill material, grade the area to an optimal elevation for wetlands, cap it with clean soil, and plant native coastal species.

“We are excited to advance construction of the Spring Creek North Ecosystem Restoration Project with New York City Parks, restoring degraded habitat while providing a comprehensive climate adaptation and resilience strategy,” said Baron.

The more than $12 million project will be 75 percent federally funded and 25 percent non-federally funded by NYC Parks and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. The project received $7.1 million from the 2022 Infrastructure Act and an additional $270,000 from the 2022 Addendum, which will be used to complete the design phase and begin construction.

Together, the Spring Creek North and South projects will restore 284 acres of habitat and manage storm-related coastal flooding for the Howard Beach community. The restored areas will increase biodiversity and improve shoreline resiliency and access to recreation in the New York City area.