STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Hurricane Sandy devastated Tottenville in 2012 killing two people and leaving many residents with severe damage to their properties. On Monday, the state broke ground on a long-awaited $107 million project meant to protect the South Shore from future storms.
Through “Living Breakwaters,” the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) will bring Staten Island’s southernmost communities the latest in engineering technologies to complement the natural features of the area, state and local officials announced during a groundbreaking ceremony near Conference House Park in Tottenville on Monday.
Jim Pistilli, a co-chair of the project’s Citizens Advisory Committee, reflected on the “endless hours” spent in “contentious” meetings to come up with this project, which was first announced in 2014.
“I think what matters is being here today. It’s culminated in a very positive situation, and I hope that it leads to a better Tottenville,” Pistilli, who also chairs the Tottenville Civic Association, said.
As Pistilli and other officials spoke Monday, a crane barge that could be seen about 1,000 feet from shore laid the foundational maritime mattresses of the project that will bring protection along with opportunities for recreation and education.
In addition to Pistilli, local officials at the event included Community Advisory Committee member and State Sen. Andrew Lanza’s chief of staff, Anthony Reinhart, City Councilman Joe Borelli, Assemblyman Mike Reilly, Deputy Borough President Ed Burke, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis.
When complete — as currently expected in 2024 — the project will include 2,400 feet of “living breakwaters” 790 to 1,800 from shore in the Raritan Bay. The breakwaters are meant to reduce storm risk and coastal erosion, along with providing habitats for marine life.
They’re mounds of rubble and concrete built on top of the maritime mattresses or bedding stones that will create ridges along with avenues between those ridges affecting wave patterns, and providing habitat opportunities.
Additional work related to the “Living Breakwaters” project will include shoreline restoration, and the Billion Oyster Project’s reintroduction of live oysters to the area.
Burke, who was a longtime advocate of the project with Borough President James Oddo, said that aspect of the project will help Staten Island’s kids learn about various aspects of the maritime industry.
“This relationship between the project and our schools, I think, is going to help teach kids about civics, about environmental science, about history — it’s just a great, great project,” he said.
The Manhattan-based SCAPE Landscape Architecture first conceived “Living Breakwaters” as an entry into the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “Rebuild by Design” competition that launched in June 2013.
SCAPE’s founding principal, Kater Orff, said Monday projects, like “Living Breakwaters,” can help communities adapt to the changing climate.
“Living Breakwaters represents years of teamwork—research, shore walks, oyster pilots, hydrodynamic modeling and community planning meetings,” she said. “So many people over so many years have provided valuable input.”
Mallitoakis (R-Staten Island/South Brooklyn) said Monday that the project would complement the coastal protection and flooding remediation projects going on around the Island, like the system of blue belts currently under construction and the East Shore seawall.
The first-term congresswoman saw Sandy’s devastation firsthand when she represented Staten Island’s East Shore in the New York Assembly, and said it’s clear more is needed on Staten Island following the impact on the borough from the remnants of Hurricane Ida earlier this month.
“Hurricane Sandy was very traumatic for so many in this community. We lost lives. We lost millions and millions of dollars of personal property, and it was something that really left a scar on so many of us,” she said.
“When we see storms like Ida, it really just triggers a very emotional place for many of us.”
GOSR told the Advance/SILive.com in June that they expected construction on the project to begin in the fall.
The project will cost $107 million with $60 million coming from the federal government, and the rest is being paid for by the state.
Federal funding came in 2014, and earlier this year, Borelli criticized state officials for not starting the project as similar work was completed in New Jersey, which received federal funding at the same time.
“Years behind New Jersey. There’s no way to work around that,” he said at the time during a tour of the area with Republican gubernatorial Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Long Island).
REASONS FOR DELAY
On Monday, GOSR General Counsel and Records Access Appeals Officer said, as she did in June, that, in addition to the pandemic, part of the delay was an attempt at fiduciary responsibility.
The state’s initial search for a contractor didn’t return a reasonable offer, so they needed to undergo a second attempt before reaching an agreement with maritime construction company Weeks Marine to handle the project.
“We have been eagerly anticipating this day, and we were pushing to get it going as quickly as we could,” she said.
A review of the project saved the state about $25 million, she said Monday.
For Borelli (R-South Shore), a resident of the South Shore and frequent visitor to the Tottenville beaches in the area, Monday’s groundbreaking marked the start of a long-awaited project that will protect the coast for generations to come.
He described the beach as a “respite” for his family during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and pointed out that humans have enjoyed the shores since the Lenape people inhabited the Island before European colonization.
“People are concerned, because this is a beach that they use and enjoy,” he said. “The project was stressful and some people were concerned, but we also have to realize how insignificant we are in just a timeframe of how long this project will protect this beach in the future.”