Public Comment on Back Bay Study Questions Storm Surge Barriers

Public comments solicited by the federal and state government on the interim report of the New Jersey Back Bays Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study mainly questioned the viability of storm surge barriers proposed to tackle flooding.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the majority of comments received on the report − most of which were received from federal resource agencies and nonprofit organizations, with additional comments from individual municipalities and interested stakeholders − “addressed the environmental impacts of structural features, namely storm surge barriers. Specifically, these comments addressed impacts to tidal flow and circulation, sediment transport and distribution, recreational opportunities and impacts to federal agency resources.”

The public was invited earlier this spring to offer comments on the interim report for the feasibility study, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched, in partnership with the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, to protect coastal communities against flooding. “These comments will inform ongoing analyses and will be incorporated into the draft feasibility report, scheduled for release in the spring of 2020,” the Corps noted.

The study team anticipates that public meetings, webinars or both will be held this winter, associated with the study’s “tentatively selected plan milestone,” as well as in the following spring, in relation to the release of the draft feasibility report.

“A total of 112 comments within 33 separate comment submittals have been evaluated towards facilitating the overarching goal of the NJBB Study, which is to reduce the risk of damages from future storms and the future impacts of sea level change and to identify strategies to increase resilience and preparedness in the back bays of New Jersey,” the Corps stated. “This strategy is most effectively realized through the consideration of a comprehensive plan consisting of structural, nonstructural and natural and nature-based features.”

Storm surge barriers, levees, home elevation, marsh restoration and living shorelines are among the solution possibilities discussed in the interim report on flood mitigation strategy for the state’s back bay areas. The study area encompasses 950 square miles and nearly 3,400 miles of waterways in Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean counties.

As the Corps noted previously, “The study team prepared the interim report to present preliminary findings and a focused array of alternative plans that manage risk and reduce damages from coastal storms. The document describes the engineering, economic, social and environmental analyses conducted to date. The focused array of alternative plans described in the report and future study analyses will ultimately result in the selection of a recommended plan for the region while minimizing environmental, social and economic impacts.”

Some of these plans were discussed at a Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce program “Coastal Resiliency: What Businesses Should Know,” held March 13 meeting at The Mainland Holiday Inn in Manahawkin. Karen Larson of Barnegat Light said then there is “just no way” a storm surge barrier would work on LBI’s north end because of the boats that come in and out of Barnegat Light.

Beach Haven Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis also voiced concerns during that same meeting about a barrier in Little Egg Inlet or Beach Haven Inlet. She wondered about the effect on water moving in to the back bay areas, as well as the cost of such a project.

“Continued, ongoing environmental modeling will assist in addressing these study facets and the finding will be communicated to interested parties during future study milestones. Interest was also expressed regarding historical rates and future habitat loss estimates, as well as ecological services consideration in benefit calculations,” the Army Corps noted.

Comments also addressed the plan formulation aspects of the study and analysis methodology, inclusion of regional management plan perspectives and enhanced outreach, as well as the need to more comprehensively consider sea level rise projections and clearer identification of strategies to manage the risk from future sea level rise.

“Commenters suggested clarification or enhanced/continued analyses of nonstructural measures, benefit and cost, design and associated assumptions, and induced flooding and high frequency flooding analyses,” the USACE wrote.

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

Reposted from The Sandpaper