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Saturday, June 15, 2024

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Army Corps’ $16B Back Bay Plan Presented

Back Bay graphic1.jpg

By Vince Conti

WASHINGTON – After five years of research, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) presented its draft New Jersey Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management (CSRM) study, designating its preferred option for protecting the state’s at-risk property from back bay flooding. 
ACE’s answer to sea level rise and other aspects of climate changeis a $16 billion project, with the federal share estimated at $10.4 billion, leaving $5.6 billion for state and local contributions.
The 561-page report (https://bit.ly/3gxOF8v), released this month, is filled with artist renditions of mammoth storm surge barriers that close off inlets at the threat of storms, floodwalls, levees, and seawalls. The report covers an area from the Coastal Lakes Region, in the far north, to Cape May County, in the south.
The project promises mitigation of loss from flooding, but does not seek to eliminate loss. Cape May County’s portions within the study area, according to the ACE, contain 8,579 structures that will need “elevation and floodproofing.”
Most structural responses to sea-level rise and storm-generated flooding are north of Ocean City, except for one cross-bay barrier to be constructed at 52nd Street. 
The southernmost parts of the study area are dealt with in the plan through non-structural solutions that include significant efforts at elevating thousands of structures.
The study’s primary goal is “to reduce risk to human life and property through the reduction of storm surge and damage to residential and commercial structures.” 
The study presents a series of alternative plans and then focuses on what the ACE terms the $16 billion Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP). The plan is divided into regions, with the southern region running from Corson’s Inlet to Cape May Point. The study area includes the bays and river mouths on the landward side of the barrier islands and the Atlantic Ocean-facing coastal areas. It, therefore, does not attempt to integrate its plan with the Atlantic-facing federal coastal management program of beach nourishment and dune construction. The oceanfront shoreline and the back bay plan represent two separate areas of federal concern.
The report states that only 11% of the study area involves elevation and floodproofing of structures as the basis of non-structural response to the flooding problem. It also states that such non-structural solutions are concentrated in “large portions of Cape May County.” The county has the largest number of “structures identified for non-structural solutions.” 
Future analysis will consider, among other things, “managed coastal retreat.” Existing state programs for the acquisition of property did not receive coverage in the report.
Also, future analysis “will help to reduce the uncertainty and risk associated with risk management solutions.” 
The report states that ACE is targeting 2023 for presenting a recommended plan for construction and authorization. With a “chief’s report” submitted in 2023, the project will move to pre-construction engineering and design (PED) based on successful PED funds authorization from Congress, where cost sharing becomes more important. PED funds are cost-shared on a 75%/25% model, with non-federal partners, meaning the state and possibly local municipalities. Eventual construction is shared on a 65%/35% basis.
For the municipalities involved, it may be critical that they have the expertise available to evaluate the CSRM plan in conjunction with Atlantic shoreline plans, state Department of Environmental Protection’s changing requirements based on climate change considerations, and the cost of municipal activities to protect against rain-event flooding.
Municipalities knowing if they have a funding obligation under the cost-sharing arrangement, what that obligation is estimated to be, and when it is expected are also crucial. 
The state allocates a portion of realty transfer fees for beach replenishment project cost-sharing with the ACE. There have been struggles over the potential increase of that fund, with no consideration yet of a large, back bay cost-sharing obligation.
Two virtual public hearings are planned on the ACE CSRM draft – Sept. 20, at 6 p.m., and Sept. 21, at 1 pm. Detailed information on the sessions is available on the Philadelphia District ACE website (https://bit.ly/3yo7TUk). Public comments must be submitted by Oct. 12.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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