When Hurricane Sandy struck the northeastern United States, a lot of its impacts were immediately obvious. From destroyed structures to massive power outages to flooding of communities and infrastructure like many had never seen before, the storm left its mark throughout the region. One of Sandy’s less obvious impacts at first was the damage it caused to engineered beaches throughout the region, including in New York City and Long Island.
Many people don’t realize it, but a lot of beaches, like Coney Island in New York City for example, that residents and tourists alike often take for granted as being great recreational spots were actually engineered and constructed to reduce risks from coastal storms like Sandy. While Sandy exceeded the design criteria for risk reduction projects in the region, the projects in place did help to soften the storm’s impact on the property and infrastructure that reside behind these risk reduction projects. In taking great amounts of sand, the storm left the communities potentially more vulnerable to the impacts of future coastal storms.
Immediately following the storm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent crews out to beaches throughout the region to assess the storm’s impacts and determine how much sand was lost so engineers could begin working toward repairing the impacted coastal risk reduction projects. The Corps has a standing authority from the Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies Act (PL 84-99) to repair risk reduction projects after massive storms of flooding events to their pre-storm conditions and crews quickly went to work preparing to carry out this mission.
In early 2013, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (PL 113-2, better known as the Sandy Relief Bill) was passed and it authorized the Corps of Engineers to not only repair engineered beach projects by replacing the sand lost during Sandy, but to also restore them to their original design profiles. PL 113-2 also provided the funding necessary to carry out this mission to repair and restore impacted coastal risk reduction projects throughout the region. This effort includes risk reduction beaches throughout the region, including in New York City and Long Island.
This new authority meant the Corps could reduce risks even more for coastal communities hard hit by Sandy and place additional sand, restoring some beach projects back to heights and widths that many residents may not remember having seen since as far back as the 1970s.This was the case for Rockaway Beach in Queens in New York City. The Corps, in partnership with New York City and the state of New York, first engineered and built the current iteration of Rockaway Beach in the 1970s. While sand has been placed over the years through large-scale renourishments as well as beneficial reuse of sand from navigational dredging in nearby East Rockaway Inlet, the last large-scale renourishment was in 2004.
When Sandy struck in October 2012, it took an estimated 1.5 million cubic yards of sand from the beach. Through authorities granted to the Corps through PL 84-99 and PL 113-2, the Corps is in the process of placing roughly 3.5 million cubic yards of sand along Rockaway Beach from Beach 19th to Beach 149th to help restore the beach so it can continue to act as a buffer between the densely populated community and the sea.
The sand placement is being done through two contracts, including one for the placement of nearly 600,000 cubic yards of sand and a larger second one for the placement of nearly 3 million cubic yards of sand. The first contract was completed earlier this year and has rebuilt a risk reduction beach in parts of the Rockaways that experienced the worst erosion during Sandy and were left the most vulnerable. The second, larger contract is slated to begin this winter and will include sand placement throughout the entire Rockaways project area, including additional sand in areas covered by the first contract. The Corps is also in the process of a Reformulation Study to look at long-term ways to improve risk reduction for the Rockaways community while also addressing erosion issues along the beach.
Coney Island was engineered and built in the 1990s and has reduced coastal risks to the communities of Coney Island and Brighton Beach in the years since it was first built. In early October, the Corps completed the placement of roughly 600,000 cubic yards of sand to restore the project back to its original design profile. Sandy was beneficially reused from nearby Rockaway Inlet, improving navigation in conjunction with the beach restoration work. In Long Island, the Corps has engineered and built three risk reduction beaches, including at Gilgo Beach, immediately west of Shinnecock Inlet and at Westhampton.
The Gilgo Beach project is a standing authority to beneficially reuse sand dredged from Fire Island Inlet to maintain safe navigation when dredging is funded. The storm not only worsened navigation in the inlet by causing shoaling, but stole roughly 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from the Gilgo Beach project, which reduces risk to the Ocean Parkway, a critical piece of infrastructure. The Corps is in the process of dredging Fire Island Inlet and beneficially placing more than 1.2 million cubic yards of sand along Gilgo Beach, including additional sand being placed nearby in partnership with the state of New York to reduce risks even more.
The West of Shinnecock Inlet Project is designed to reduce coastal storm risks on the barrier island, reducing potential risks to the integrity of the inlet and the navigational structures associated with it while also mitigating erosion west of the inlet. The Corps actually placed roughly 173,000 cubic yards at the project site to replace sand lost during Sandy in conjunction with previously scheduled work in the months immediately after Sandy. That work repaired the project to its pre-storm conditions, and the Corps is now going to place roughly 450,000 cubic yards of sand there to restore the project to its original design.
The Corps constructed the Westhampton Dune Project in Westhampton in the 1990s and while the project greatly reduced Sandy’s impacts to the community there, the project itself lost a great deal of its sand. The Corps will be awarding a contract this fall for the placement of roughly 1 million cubic yards of sand to restore the risk reduction project to its original design. While all of this work is going on, the Corps is moving toward constructing new risk reduction projects for coastal communities throughout New York. These projects include various risk reduction elements, including seawalls, non-structural elements like elevating and floodproofing structures, groins and of course beach and dune construction.