Protecting Beaches and Waterways

While many state legislatures and local officials last week praised Governor Cuomo’s $109.3 million state and federal investment for New York Works projects as the first step toward dredging, beach re-nourishment and other coastal erosion projects on Long Island, the timetable remains unclear as to when the federal investment will come to fruition.

Of the six Long Island projects laid out by the governor’s plan, four are located on the South Fork: the inlet to Lake Montauk, the Shinnecock and Moriches Inlets and beaches in Westhampton Dunes.

The New York Works projects anticipate the state investing $22.65 million while leveraging the remaining $86.65 million out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, completing the total project cost of $109.3 million. However, as to when the federal funds will culminate and synchronize with state funding “is still down the road,” informs State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr in an interview, as the federal government still has not appropriated the plan’s expenses.

The governor’s plan is structured so that the state will cover roughly 20% of the plan, while the federal government will cover 80% of the remaining costs. Additionally, local South Fork governments have some money set aside for these endeavors. East Hampton currently has $700,000 set aside for Lake Montauk along with the $6.8 million New York State has reserved for the project. Another example is the Shinnecock Inlet, where $11.3 million is designated for the dredging; the state will pay about $2.26 million as the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the federal government, will pay the residual $9.04 million.

Thiele, despite the federal governments slow pace, feels optimistic about the governor’s plan materializing in the upcoming years. “It’s a good step to leverage federal dollars, but we still need federal money.”

The New York Works project is intended to get New Yorkers back on their feet and into the work force, while simultaneously strengthening the state’s infrastructure, though the project might not create a job before the end of 2013.

The governor’s intended plan aims at dredging—the gathering up of sediments and disposing of them in order to keep waterways navigable-—and on replenishing sand on beaches to address beach re-nourishment and coastal erosion.

The beach nourishment in West Hampton Dunes is the only one of the four projects that is certain to move forward in the near future, since it is mandated by a court order. The project has a $5.5 million dollar funding line in President Obama’s 2013 budget, and if it is approved, the Army Corps could be awarding bids for the work in 2013, which could conceivably commence by the end of that year. If the president’s budget fails, the House already passed an alternative resolution that would still include funding for the beaches. However, the president’s and the House’s alternative budgets both include additional cuts to the Army Corps overall budget, as much as 25% over the next two years.

Thiele believes the Army Corps will still begin work on the rest of the Long Island projects sometime in the next two years, perhaps with the exception of the Lake Montauk project.

The project projected to be completed last is the inlet at Lake Montauk, because it is a new endeavor for Corps.

Montauk is the furthest away, being it’s a new project and will should require a study,” informs Thiele. However, the New York State Assemblyman advocates, the plan will offer a “permanent solution.”

There seems to be two significant caveats that restrict immediate development. One, the fact that the Army Corp of Engineers’ budget has been decreasing over recent years due to less federal funding, and it is slated to decrease further in upcoming years. Second, in 2010 Congress passed a ban on earmarks (legislative provisions that direct approved funds to be spent on specific projects), which prohibits members of Congress from attaining direct federal money dedicated to local projects.

However, in spite of the earmark ban, local representatives like Tim Bishop will continue advocating for federal money for local relief.

Mr. Bishop is continuing his advocacy for federal funding of erosion control and dredging projects for eastern Long Island, despite the earmark ban,” Bishop’s spokesman, Oliver Longwell, said in a phone interview last week.

The earmark ban is also responsible for cutting the traditional source for funding Army Corps works projects, as most Army Corp projects begin on a local level.

“For the second year in a row,” on a state level, “New York State has passed a transformative and balanced budget that holds the line on spending, while focusing on job creation and government efficiency,” Cuomo said in an official statement. The New York Works program intends to “reinvent economic development with innovative new strategy that will put New Yorkers back to work rebuilding the state’s infrastructure,” continued the governor in the same statement.

The New York Works program has already included millions of dollars in funding for work on local roads and bridges, as well as at several state parks. The governor’s program is designed to perpetuate his commitment to fiscal responsibility while still creating jobs and revitalizing communities, especially on Long Island.

Under the structure of the current plan, $66.8 million of the total $109.3 million will be administered to the South Fork. If the plan happens under the current structure $34 million will be allocated to Lake Montauk, $11.3 million to the Shinnecock Inlet, $11.5 million for interim beach relief to Westhampton, and about $10 million to the Moriches Inlet; however, this all depends on when federal aid will arrive.

Some projects will have to wait longer than others.

At this time, Cuomo’s proposed project is still in the works, though it is passed the abstract stage. The federal government is still responsible for the lion’s share of the funding, $86.65 of the $109.3 million, while the state and local governments cover the remaining balance. The governor’s plan can allow New York State to reserve the $22.6 million, roughly $13.36 million of that amount reserved to projects on the South Fork. But nothing can come to materialize without further federal governments funding.

Furthermore, Gene Pawlik, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the agency would follow whatever criteria Congress laid out in its budget instructions.

“State funding in the budget is a good thing,” reminds Thiele, “many projects like these build themselves from the grassroots up…this is a positive step in attaining federal money.”

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