By PHIL NOBILE
Referred to as a “light at the end of the tunnel” for the village’s flooding problems, potential mitigation plans that would erect levees and floodwalls were made public recently, with elected officials from the national to local level lending their support.
Coming at the tail end of the first public presentation of a potential flood mitigation project on May 22, United States Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, spoke in the village’s Columbus Park to show stern support for a plan, spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that calls for a variety of changes and modifications to assuage flooding throughout the Village of Mamaroneck.
“Dealing with flooding has become a way of life in this area. With your home or business being flooded almost once a year or once every 20 years, that’s a horrible thing to go through,” Schumer said. “We’re pleased to announce the Army Corps, in partnership with local officials, has identified a plan to significantly reduce funding. This is the first step, and should be music to the ears of anyone who lives and works in Mamaroneck.”
Out of the multiple potential avenues for the Army Corps to take, one plan, referred to as the “Locally Preferred Plan,” which is supported by the village, county and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, has a price tag of $59 million and calls for a multitude of structural and non-structural measures.
Structural measures in the Army Corps plan deal with changing the two troublesome rivers—Mamaroneck and Sheldrake—through the creation of floodwalls and levees; physically modifying the river basins by deepening and widening and diversion of water by creating new channels for water flow.
Non-structural changes consist of raising homes or businesses above potential floods.
As for the funding, more than 65 percent of the $59 million tab will be picked up by the federal government with the rest supplied by state, county and local funding, according to Schumer, who added the price was minimal considering damages to the village from a 2007 nor’easter cost more than $50 million to fix.
“That price is well worth it; one flood alone has caused that amount of damage. Every year, even without terrific storms, flood damage causes $4 million,” Schumer said.
Also in the plan comes the removal or modification of up to six bridges throughout the area. Ward, Waverly and Station Plaza bridges would be replaced and three as yet unnamed pedestrian bridges would be removed entirely.
Beginning in March 2010, studies were initiated to analyze the plethora of flooding issues throughout the village thanks to a combined effort between Schumer, United States Congresswomen Nita Lowey, a Westchester Democrat, state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, and Mamaroneck officials.
“This is the first time in decades the Village of Mamaroneck actually has light at the end of the tunnel for flood mitigation in the village,” Republican Village Mayor Norman Rosenblum said.
More than four years later, the Army Corps has revealed its initial findings and potential plans, leaving the room for multiple options when it comes to fixing flood issues.
Gene Brickman, the deputy chief of planning for the Army Corps, stressed the importance of the project to the community, highlighting the intergovernmental involvement and comprehensive funding.
“I can’t express what a great opportunity this is, with the fact that it’s fully funded, the fact that the state, county and local government was integral and crafted the plan,” Brickman said. “There’s still work to do, but the fact that [the Village of Mamaroneck] has supported such a positive plan, it’s kind of green-lighted to go.”
The preferred plan was compared to 100-year storms and 25-year storms. More than 83 percent of potential flooding and damage to structures would be reduced for 100-year storms if the plan is implemented,
according to the Army Corps, and for 25-year storms, more than 98 percent of any damage would be reduced.
After internal and external review from federal agencies, the Army Corps plans to hold a public review in February 2015 to analyze and digest the final draft of the project, as well as draft an Environmental Impact Statement to be processed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Despite the overwhelming praise from officials, the Locally Preferred Plan was not preferred by some members of the community.
Dan Natchez, a former Democratic village trustee, echoed the sentiments of a few concerned residents by asking for details as to where and what would be specifically changed and how the village could visually change.
“If [the Army Corps] wants public support, I think it’s incumbent to put together a proper package for the public that makes it easier for people to understand,” Natchez said. “Most people have not been part of the planning process and there should be details as to what is proposed in one plan versus the other.”
According to Karen Ashton, a project planner for the Army Corps, specific details could not be released until additional reviews of the plans have been conducted.
“We don’t want to be putting out a plan that has a fatal flaw, so we have a very rigorous internal and external review where our agency, other agencies and other districts look at it before it goes out to the public,” Ashton said. “This is more of an overview of what we’re planning to do based on our analysis. Right now, we’re at 10 percent of total designing, and we’re trying to get to 30 percent for it to go out to reviews. Then you’ll see how wide, how deep, where and why; those details are going to be transparent.”
Schumer wasn’t without his criticisms of the process as well, stressing the importance of speediness to begin the project.
“The next step is internal and external review by the Corps, so it’s finally open for public comment in February of next year, and I’m here to say that’s too long,” Schumer said. “We should have the clout to do it. We have a plan, the community agrees to it, and now the Army Corps has to speed up and finalize it.”
Funding and congressional approval is not expected to occur until later next year.