U.S. Army Corps hosts resiliency town hall

By Matthew Fischetti


Over 100 Greenpoint residents packed into the Triskellion Arts Center last week in the neighborhood  to attend a town hall co-hosted by the North Brooklyn Parks Association and U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez to address draft plans from the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers for creating a more resilient waterfront.

While the town hall was attended by mostly Greenpoint residents, the event marked the first time both representatives from the Queens waterfront neighborhoods along the Newtown Creek were working cooperatively over the issue. Elected officials franging from Sunnyside Assemblymember Juan Ardilla to Greenpoint Councilman Lincoln Restler were in attendance last Thursday to discuss the draft plans.(Queens residents were able to log-on and attend the meeting virtually as well to voice their concerns.)

The tentatively selected plan would include sea walls along the coastline and storm surge barriers as well as raised promenades as mitigation measures.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineer representative Byrce Wisemiller emphasized that the Army Corps main focus was reducing storm surge risk.

“Some refer to our view on storm surge as somewhat myopic. But that is the impact that has caused 10s of billions of dollars of damage and has the greatest life safety threat of all those risks,” Wisemiller said.

Many residents who spoke out at the town hall were concerned with proposed renderings for a 17 foot tall sea wall in Greenpoint, stretching from Kent Street to Newtown Creek. At the Town Hall Wisemiller noted that the rendering was five feet too high and emphasized the designs are subject to change following the public comment period.

“But the bottom line of what we’re really trying to communicate is this neighborhood goes as unaddressed, severe coastal storm risk – as you probably all know that way better than me having lived here. We need to do something,” Wisemiller said. “Maybe the seawall, bigger flood wall, maybe the location needs to change. But this is not something that cannot be addressed.”

Willis Elkins, the executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, raised concerns about how the plan will affect the remediation of the creek and how the current plan could limit connection between the East River and the Newtown Creek and cast aspersion on storm surge gate would adequately protect the area.

“But for us more than anything, the exchange between Newtown Creek and the East River is incredibly vital to the health and the remediation of Newtown Creek, we have strong current flows that are coming in and out twice a day,” Elkins said, referencing the proposed clean-up of the creek which is supposed to happen within the next five years. “And anything that’s going to inhibit the flow of that water is going to have, in our opinion, strong impacts on the water quality of Newtown Creek and how Superfund remediation is going to happen.”

Elkins’s presentation also noted that he believes the storm surge gate as it ignores other causes of flooding like sea level and groundwater rise.

In a Feb. 17 letter addressed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance also had several critiques of the draft plan ranging from that is cuts access to long fought for waterfront parks; that the plan doesn’t protect the Williamsburg waterfront; that the sea gates will restrict water flow and lead to increased combined sewer overflow, thereby slowing down the Superfund clean up; and not having enough “natural and nature-based solutions.”

“In summary and conclusion, the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance feels it is incumbent on the USArmy Corps of Engineers plans to fully incorporate community feedback and visions; employ an environmental justice framework; consider the potential impacts of past, current, and future New York City and State projects; and clearly address existing environmental conditions—especially where hazardous toxins, contaminated sites, and greater risk of flooding are involved,” the letter reads. 

During the question and answers point of the town hall, western Queens Councilwoman Julie Won raised equity issues with how Queens and Brooklyn are getting their flood protections.

“We have had the least amount of public and social infrastructure investments in all five boroughs. And Brooklyn is not too far behind that,” Won said at the meeting, noting that Manhattan has received funding for flip-up barriers, a type of flood protection that would leave pedestrian spaces unimpeded. 

Construction for the project would start around 2030 with a duration of 14 years.

Comments are available until March 7th about the proposed design. Readers interested in voicing their position can email their comments  to  nynjharbor.tribstudy@usace.army.mil.

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