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Long Beach: $12.45M bulkhead project won’t cover private homes

Lew Dubow is among Long Beach residents now

Lew Dubow is among Long Beach residents now facing the cost of rebuilding the bulkheads themselves after a state-funded bulkhead project to protect the city's north shore from severe flooding will no longer cover private homes. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Beach officials said a state-funded bulkhead project to protect the city’s north shore from severe flooding must be changed and will no longer cover private homes after the city found its design would cost more than twice what the state grant would cover.

The New York State Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery had awarded the city $12.45 million in 2013 to build a bulkhead using vinyl sheeting, steel tie-backs and concrete anchors along more than a mile of Long Beach’s lowest elevations on the bay side facing Reynolds Channel — an area that sustained severe flooding during superstorm Sandy in 2012.

But the city’s engineering firm, Pasadena, California-based Tetra Tech, found that the bulkhead — which it designed for steel — would actually cost $28 million, Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said — more than double what the state had agreed to pay.

Long Beach officials said they had hoped the long steel bulkhead would negate the need for residents to build individual private bulkheads.

Now, the city has altered the project to cover only public property along the north shore, not private homes. Design would likely be finished in the spring, with construction to begin in the summer.

“The state thought the [$12.45 million] would include all private bulkheads, but the estimate more than doubled,” Schnirman said, adding that the city was going to stretch the grant to cover as far as possible. “Ultimately, it will provide as much protection as possible in an area which has never been protected before.”

But state officials said while the $12.45 million was aimed at protecting public and private land, the project never included plans to rebuild individual private bulkheads and was not intended as a replacement for that work.

State officials said the specifications, including the steel construction of the bulkhead, were designed by the city’s consultant, and not in the scope of what was covered by the grant.

City officials said their consultant was following the state’s guidelines of where the bulkheads should be built, and added that a steel bulkhead was needed, because, they said, the state’s plans would be just as, if not more expensive. And they said the state’s initial estimate did not account for variances on the coastline and around homes and decking.

Now, under the changed project, Long Beach said it will build bulkheads only along public land along most of the northern shore, partially spanning the end of streets on the West End, along West Bay Avenue, and lining the East End canals along Doyle and Heron streets.

The city is using a separate $20 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to build bulkheads around its critical infrastructure along the north shore, such as its water treatment plant and gas and electric substations.

Some residents said the plan to do partial bulkheading on public land, but not in front of private homes was inadequate.

Residents told city officials during a recent presentation on the bulkheading project that the new plans would not protect homes from flooding due to gaps in the bulkhead along the shoreline.

“Unless you do the whole thing, it’s the weak link in the chain,” Lew Dubow, who lives in the canals section of the city, told City Council members.

“We agree water goes wherever it can. It’s opportunistic. We’re limited in our money and hoping we can help our private homeowners,” City Council President Len Torres said during the council meeting. “Right now we don’t have an answer.”

And now some residents say they’re facing the cost of rebuilding the bulkheads themselves.

A program that provided state funding for homeowners to rebuild their own private bulkheads closed March 2016.

The city sent an Aug. 14 letter to the state asking it to reopen the program, noting that Long Beach homeowners had not pursued individual bulkheads, and believed the city and state had planned to build the long bulkhead that would cover them.

But on Aug. 30, the state denied the city’s request to reopen the program, adding it never said the state-funded bulkhead would be a replacement for individual, private bulkheads.

Only 19 of the 172 addresses along the north shore submitted by the city in its request to reopen the program had opted in for bulkheading before the program’s deadline, according to the state.

The city now is seeking additional funding to cover the nearly $15.5 million difference between the grant and the cost of the bulkhead, saying it is working with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office and with state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).

The city also is offering residents an alternate plan to finance individual bulkheads using a tax surcharge with a 20-year financing program through city bonds to repair and replace their private bulkheads.

Dubow, the Long Beach resident, said this month he and his wife Amy were counting on the city’s north shore bulkhead when they were told the state would consider a bulkhead a duplication of benefits, since he and his wife already had received state funding to raise their house.

He said he did not plan to enroll in the city’s finance program, which he said would require him to use city contractors at a greater cost than a private estimate of about $50,000.

“To me there was a major screw-up somewhere, when the project came back with double the estimate,” Dubow said. “I understand the logistical problem, but we were counting on that.”

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