Two years ago in 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the northeastern United States and went down in history as one of the most destructive storms on record, damaging homes and businesses and causing billions of dollars in damage to vital infrastructure, electrical power transmission, transportation and water and sewage facilities.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer played an important role in the emergency response immediately following the storm including carrying out FEMA-assigned recovery missions like supporting debris removal in New York City and Long Island, N.Y. In New York City, the worst damage came from Sandy's storm surge.
The Corps of Engineers has worked closely with local, state and federal partners and other stakeholders since the storm while working to reduce risks from future storms to coastal areas.
Congress signed the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 in January 2013, often referred as the Sandy Relief Bill, which gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding and authority to restore coastal projects and navigation channels impacted, and to implement new projects to reduce risks from storms to coastal communities in the northeast. The Sandy Relief Bill also authorizes the Corps to not only repair Sandy’s impacts to previously constructed projects, but to restore those projects to their original design conditions, which is not normally the case following a storm.
"The Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act has afforded the Corps of Engineers and our non-federal partners with a unique opportunity to restore previously constructed coastal storm damage reduction projects to their authorized design profiles, which is a condition that exceeds the level of risk reduction that existed just prior to Hurricane Sandy,” said Anthony Ciorra, Chief, Sandy Coastal Management Branch, New York District. “In addition, the Sandy Disaster Relief Act provides the funding necessary to implement previously authorized but unconstructed projects that when completed will reduce the risk of future storm damages to vulnerable coastal communities in New York and New Jersey."
Following Sandy, with funding from the Sandy Relief Bill, the New York District repaired restored previously constructed projects impacted by Sandy and moved unconstructed projects forward towards construction and advanced its ongoing studies.
It was a Monday evening on October 29, 2012 when Sandy approached the New York Harbor with a peak wave of 32.5 feet, it sent water over a seawall in lower Manhattan sending surges 14 feet high — the highest ever recorded in New York Harbor. The surge of sea water inundated coastal communities, flooding roads, transportation systems and damaging electrical facilities causing wide spread power outages.
Immediately after the storm, the Army Corps was boots on the ground responding, through its own response authorities and providing disaster response assistance for FEMA. These immediate response missions associated with FEMA were wide ranging and involved supporting debris removal efforts, emergency temporary power and helping to unwater of hundreds of millions of gallons of water that infiltrated regional transportation tunnels.
New York District personnel also worked to ensure safe marine navigation, conducting obstruction surveys of key shipping lanes and removing thousands of tons of debris from in and around the New York Harbor that Sandy generated. These missions were critical to supporting and enabling the safe reopening of the Port of New York and New Jersey.
The Corps of Engineers also worked closely with the state of New York to quickly close two barrier island breaches that were punched open by Hurricane Sandy along the south shore of Long Island.
Part of the initial response also involved inspecting existing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coastal storm risk management projects to determine how much the storm had damaged these projects. The Corps of Engineers has spent much of the two years since the storm has involved the repair and restore of these previously constructed coastal storm risk management projects throughout the region, including in New York and northern New Jersey for the New York District. Sandy removed roughly six million cubic yards of sand from New York District's coastal projects in New York and northern New Jersey. These impacts to existing coastal storm risk management projects left coastal communities vulnerable to future storms The District repaired and restored previously built dunes and beach berms, and repaired other risk reduction features such as levees and tide gates.
Restoring coastal projects, including replacing lost sand, is important to reducing coastal storm risks in the future. Since Sandy, New York District has completed the repair and restore of all but one coastal storm risk management project impacted by the storm, with repair and restore on that last project expected to be completed by the end of the year. That work has involved the placement of roughly 15 million cubic yards of sand, with an additional one million to be placed at the last project.
Throughout the entire northeast, the Corps of Engineers is overseeing the placement of more than 26 million cubic yards of sand to repair and restore projects from Virginia to New England.
• In New York City, that includes roughly 3.5 million cubic yards of sand placed to repair and restore the coastal storm risk management beach project at Rockaway and roughly 600,000 cubic yards of sand to do the same at the engineered beach at Coney Island.
• On Long Island, N.Y. that included the placement of roughly 450,000 cubic yards of sand to repair and restore the West of Shinnecock Inlet coastal storm risk management project immediately west of the Shinnecock Inlet and 1.5 million cubic yards of sand at Gilgo Beach and nearby municipal beaches, with the state funding placement at the municipal beaches.
Work is ongoing to repair and restore the coastal storm risk management project at Westhampton, which will involve the placement of roughly one million cubic yards of sand when it’s completed later this year.
• In New Jersey, the New York District oversaw the placement of roughly 8 million cubic yards of sand to repair and restore engineered beaches along the Atlantic coast of Monmouth County from Sea Bright to Manasquan and the placement of roughly 875,000 cubic yards of sand to repair and restore the coastal storm risk management project at Keansburg.
The Corps’ Philadelphia District also placed roughly 10 million cubic yards of sand in New Jersey to repair and restore projects they had previously constructed further south in the state.
Noteworthy was that the coastal restoration work was accomplished in light of a Government shutdown, sequestration, furloughs, several inclement weather condition days and a workforce reduction. Strong interagency and intergovernmental teamwork was also crucial to meet any challenges. Also of note, while some of the coastal restoration work was done during beach recreation season, the District went to great lengths to mitigate impacts on recreation and implemented only rolling sections of beach closures at times in the interest of public safety.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made great strides and progress on its projects that were authorized and funded following Hurricane Sandy.
"The planning, projects and programs were vital, and several milestones were accomplished by several disciplined group of individuals and teams that used their expertise to successfully accomplish this critical mission," said Col. Paul E. Owen, the Army Corps' New York District Commander and District Engineer.
While repairing and restoring previously constructed projects, the Corps of Engineers has also been working toward implementing new coastal storm risk management projects where they did not previously exist. This includes projects that were authorized for construction at various points prior to Hurricane Sandy but were not ever constructed for a variety of reasons in the past. While those reasons were sometime funding constraints in the past, the projects were eligible to be funded through the Sandy Relief Bill.
For these projects, some having been authorized years or even decades ago, the Corps had to update prior engineering and design efforts, physical surveys, and environmental compliance.
The first construction contract for one of these Authorized But Unconstructed (ABU) projects was awarded in spring 2014 with the dune element of a larger project for the Port Monmouth community in New Jersey being completed in the summer. In New York, work on improvements to the coastal storm risk management project at Coney Island is slated to begin later this year, as well as dune and beach berm work on Fire Island. The Corps expects to begin construction on more ABU projects in 2015.
The Corps is also studying coastal storm risk management in various parts of New York and New Jersey and expects to have draft reports with project recommendations for review in many cases in 2015.
Since Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ commitment to the coastal communities remains strong and has made remarkable progress two years after Sandy to reduce the risk of damage from future storms. Moving forward the Corps is developing, maintaining and applying the best expertise in science and engineering to restore and enhance the resilience of coastlines.
If another Sandy were to hit today, we would expect much lesser coastal damage to areas where beach nourishment and restoration has taken place for protection and flood and storm damage reduction.