Picking up after Hurricane Sandy
By David Vergun
Department of Defense
WASHINGTON -- The Army Corps of Engineers is still involved in relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Oct. 29.
The Corps' latest efforts are being fueled with $5.35 billion from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, signed into law Jan. 29.
The Army is now developing implementation plans for that funding, Jo-Ellen Darcy told Congress members Wednesday.
As the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Darcy oversees Corps projects. She testified at a House Committee on Appropriations oversight hearing on "Hurricane Sandy supplemental implementation."
The $5.35 billion includes about $3.46 billion for construction, $1 billion for flood control and coastal emergencies, $821 million for operation and maintenance, $50 million for investigations and $10 million for other expenses, she said.
The legislation provides supplemental appropriations not only to address damages caused by Hurricane Sandy, but to reduce future flood risk in ways that will support the long-term sustainability of the coastal ecosystem and communities and reduce the economic costs and risks associated with large-scale flood and storm events, Darcy added.
Sandy, which Darcy termed a "superstorm," caused extensive infrastructure damage totaling an estimated $50 billion, hitting New York and New Jersey particularly hard. It was the second costliest U.S. disaster after Hurricane Katrina, said Rep. John Carter, during the hearing.
The Corps itself sustained damage to its navigation projects, she said, adding that a number of "existing Corps projects helped to mitigate some of the flood damages to the residents."
Lawmakers expressed concern about future hurricanes of this or greater magnitude, along with the resulting cost in dollars and lives.
"Expected changes in sea levels, extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change are likely to increase those risks," Darcy responded. One congressman questioned the validity of climate change.
Effects of sequestration will be greatest in the operation and maintenance account, Darcy stated in written testimony. Resulting impacts will likely be felt in the closing of recreation areas and some maintenance work will be deferred. Maintenance work includes navigation channel dredging and equipment maintenance, the latter of which could increase the risk of breakdowns.
In the Corps' regulatory program, there will be an increase in the waiting time for the issuance of permits and a decrease in regulatory assistance to the public, the results of which "could adversely affect some private-sector investments," she said.
As well, sequestration will impact "protection of the environment" as a result of the reduction of the Corps' "ability to monitor completed mitigation work," she added.
The Corps will continue to pursue non-federal funding sources, Darcy said, including public-private partnerships and an "infrastructure bank."
WORK IN PROGRESS
As of this week, 734,000 cubic yards of debris have been removed from New York City, Darcy said, indicating that about 40 percent more will need to be removed.
The bulk of tasks remaining are 19 hurricane and shore protection projects within the Corps' North Atlantic Division, funded under this year's appropriations act. Design and engineering has already started on those, Darcy said.
The North Atlantic Division includes coastal and inland areas from southern Virginia to Canada. Darcy said protection projects outside that division are being addressed as well.
Public Law 113-2 -- derived from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 -- stipulates that the bulk of the funding will "address damages caused by Hurricane Sandy and reduce future flood risk in ways that will support the long-term sustainability of the coastal ecosystem and communities and reduce the economic costs and risks associated with large-scale flood and storm events."
"In some or many cases, the restoration of an existing Corps project to its original design profile may not meet these interrelated objectives, and a fundamentally different approach may be more suitable," Darcy said.
"The Corps will undertake a broad, conceptual examination of the best ideas and approaches to reducing the vulnerability to major storms over time, in a way that is sustainable over the long-term, both for the natural coastal ecosystem and for communities," she continued, adding that factors like "resiliency, economics, risks and environmental compliance" will be considered.
While much work remains to be done, a lot has already been completed.
As of March 1, the Corps completed 567 power assessments and installation of 211 generators that at one point were generating 55 million kilowatts of emergency power for residents of the affected areas, Darcy said.
The Corps also installed and operated 162 pumps to unwater 14 sites of "strategic importance" including tunnels, New York City subways and the Passaic, N.J., wastewater treatment plant, resulting in removal of more than 475 million gallons of water.
Other missions completed include:
-- Operations of the Hoboken, N.J. ferry terminal were restored.
-- Delivery of 512 truckloads of drinking water to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, were made.
-- Refurbishment of 115 transitional housing units were completed.
-- More than 218,000 sandbags and cold-weather gear were provided to state, local and tribal responders.
-- The 249th Prime Power Battalion provided engineering services to 13 states.