$58.2M dune plan for Breezy Point gets green light

Robert Connolly and his wife Laura survey the Robert Connolly and his wife Laura survey the remains of the home owned by her parents that burned to the ground during superstorm Sandy in Breezy Point on Oct. 30, 2012. Photo Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

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A multimillion-dollar request to the federal government for a grant to build a dune system and other coastal protections for a Queens neighborhood that lost 355 homes to fire and flooding during superstorm Sandy is moving forward, the state has announced.

The $58.2 million proposal submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency entails building a double dune on the side of the community, Breezy Point, that faces the ocean, as well as potentially constructing a seawall and groins along the bay in both Breezy Point and nearby Roxbury to prevent flooding and erosion.

The state said $1.2 million was awarded to support technical, feasibility and permitting needs for the project. Another $57 million in funds for design, engineering and construction could follow, according to the governor's office.

"This is the first step towards what we're looking for," said Arthur Lighthall, general manager of Breezy Point Cooperative Inc.

The Breezy Point plan was part of a comprehensive assessment the city undertook after the storm and is included in the city's $3.7 billion coastal protection plan, said Daniel Zarrilli, director of New York City's Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

"Breezy Point certainly was highly vulnerable and we need to put additional coastal protections to reduce vulnerability," Zarrilli said.

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A FEMA program awards money for projects that will save lives and prevent property damage from natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tornadoes or hurricanes. Funds can be used to raise, purchase or relocate structures, build safe rooms, create mitigation plans, improve water and wastewater treatment facilities, and build minor and major flood control measures.

Major flood control projects were ineligible until June 27, when FEMA issued a policy paper allowing for the construction of dams, dikes, flood walls, groins, jetties, levees and sea walls. That new policy is retroactive and applies to Sandy applications, FEMA spokesman Dan Watson said.

Breezy Point, on a barrier island, is a private 500-acre cooperative with more than 2,800 homes on the western edge of the Rockaway peninsula. Residents own their homes, but the Breezy Point Cooperative owns the land and oversees sidewalk maintenance, public safety and other services. More than 135 homes were destroyed in a fire during Sandy and 220 were washed off foundations or flooded.

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In the aftermath of the October 2012 storm, Breezy Point built a dune on a small portion of the ocean-facing beach where serious flooding destroyed homes. The dune, about 7 feet tall and 25 to 50 feet wide, has held up but a more permanent solution is needed for the entire community, Lighthall said recently.

"This plan will help Breezy Point build back from Sandy and be better protected against the threats of extreme weather moving forward," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.

Emily C. Dooley is a journalism fellow focusing on community resiliency with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. She is on leave from Newsday.

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