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Feds: No guarantee of full funding for $1.2B FIMP flood plan

Col. David A Caldwell, commander of the Army

Col. David A Caldwell, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' New York District, speaks with Jared DellaValle of Ocean Bay Park during the annual meeting of the Fire Island Association in Ocean Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2016, when the corps presented a revised plan to protect Suffolk County's southern coast. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

As projected costs rise and final approvals lag, two federal flood-protection plans for New York’s Atlantic coast and bays — one in Suffolk, the other in Queens — may compete for funding, officials said.

Suffolk’s Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) plan, which builds dunes and marshes, and raises or flood-proofs 4,400 South Shore homes, is now pegged at $1.2 billion, up from a $750 million estimate in 2013.

The Rockaway-Jamaica Bay project will cost roughly $5 billion — if a flood-surge barrier is built across the bay, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Minus the barrier, its price tag is about $500 million.

Combined, those projects could cost $6.2 billion. Yet Congress only gave the Army Corps $5 billion for all the states Superstorm Sandy ravaged in 2012.

“The total amount is going to exceed that $5 billion,” said Col. David A. Caldwell, who runs the agency’s New York District. Other pending flood-control projects also have big cost estimates, though not nearly as large as Rockaway-Jamaica Bay.

Caldwell cautioned recently that FIMP might have to be scaled back.

“Will every component be built with the $1.2 billion? I can’t say definitively because there are a lot of unknowns,” he told Fire Islanders at a July 30 Ocean Beach meeting.

Caldwell stressed that the Army Corps’ Queens and Suffolk projects are approved “subject to the availability of funds.”

Chris Soller, Fire Island National Seashore superintendent, said projects are “competing for the money,” and those that are fully approved or already underway have an advantage.

Both of New York’s rival plans include national parks, with the Rockaway-Jamaica Bay plan encompassing the Gateway National Recreation Area.

The FIMP plan to shield 83 miles of coastline is closer to being approved: A revised draft plan was issued last month, triggering another set of reviews.

Two components have been broken out as emergency projects: a $9 million beach and dune project shielding downtown Montauk that has been completed; and a $207 million reconstruction of 13 miles of Fire Island dunes. The latter project began in 2014 and is now expected to be completed by 2018, according to the Army Corps.

A revised Rockaway-Jamaica Bay plan is due out later this month.

Gateway spokeswoman Patricia Rafferty said the plan to shield the Rockaways from the ocean with dunes and groins was further along than two possible options for Jamaica Bay. The “entire perimeter of the bay” could be encircled with a sea wall, or a storm barrier could be built across the bay at a site yet to be determined.

Caldwell said the Army Corps selects projects based on their value, including “the number of people impacted.”

FIMP would protect a total of about 9,000 homes in Suffolk, with about half of those Fire Island vacation homes.

In contrast, the Rockaway peninsula is densely populated, and the Rockaway-Jamaica Bay project also will defend Kennedy Airport.

Joseph Vietri, Army Corps planning and policy chief for the North Atlantic region, said FIMP funding hinges on his agency and the Department of Interior approving it before President Barack Obama leaves office.

Citing the Rockaway plan’s potential to soar in cost, he said at the Fire Island meeting: “That goes back to the criticality of getting these . . . documents into the [Obama] administration.”

That timetable might be ambitious. Army Corps spokesman James D’Ambrosio said a final report might not be completed until early next year, and then it must be submitted for final approvals.

Politicians likely will play a role in selecting projects, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has advocated for FIMP.

“He will closely monitor progress of projects, like new dunes, groins and seawalls, that will protect the whole coast of Long Island, from tip to tip,” said Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro.

One option is that Congress could be asked to earmark more funding for the projects.

“If there are not sufficient Sandy funds available to construct the entire project, then additional authorization and appropriations will be needed to complete unconstructed features of the project,” D’Ambrosio said.

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