When Sandy crashed ashore just a few months ago, it ravaged the cities, towns, and shorelines of New York and New Jersey and caused unprecedented damage to the region’s national parks.
At the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Gateway National Recreation Area buildings were flooded and essential infrastructure destroyed. Electrical, plumbing, and sewer systems were wrecked, while docks, foundations, floors, and walls in many facilities were displaced or destroyed. At larger parks such as Fire Island National Seashore and Gateway, the beaches suffered severe erosion and summer’s sands were swept away. Extensive areas of inland landscapes were horrifically damaged as well.
Sometimes though, such tragedies have a silver lining. In Sandy’s wake, NPCA’s supporters have helped achieve a triumph for the parks by voicing support for the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, known as the Sandy Supplemental Bill. NPCA worked hard on the bill’s passage. Targeting 170 potential congressional supporters, NPCA staff across the country called each member’s staff to discuss the bill. More than 19,400 NPCA members and supporters told these legislators why it is so important to rebuild the regions devastated by Sandy and to protect communities from future storm damage. Northeast regional staff worked with various agencies to understand the bill’s goals and potential impacts, and NPCA helped influence the content of the legislation as well, promoting interagency cooperation and environmental justice for projects in the New York and New Jersey Harbor.
With the passage of the Sandy Supplemental, billions of dollars will now start flowing to the region for relief and rebuilding. The bill included $398 million for the National Park Service to rebuild parks and historic treasures, $360 million for the Department of Interior to rebuild coastal habitat and infrastructure in national parks and wildlife refuges, and hundreds of millions more for the Army Corps of Engineers to help with flood reduction and coastal restoration projects around Gateway and Fire Island.
It is tragic that the region had to endure a natural disaster, widespread suffering, and costly rebuilding efforts to receive this level of congressional priority, but this bill is wonderful news for the region. It is our hope that restoration work in Sandy’s wake will embrace the vision of a lively urban waterfront, open and accessible to the people, that is economically sustainable as well as environmentally resilient. Sandy funds will now ensure:
- More than $348 million in direct support for national park operations in the region. Already overburdened and struggling with recent cuts, these funds will allow the National Park Service (NPS) to take a fiscally responsible, forward-looking approach to rebuilding in the region. Without these funds, much of the restoration work (such as re-opening the Statue of Liberty) would have come at the expense of national park sites and projects across the nation.
- Billions of dollars for the Army Corps to rebuild open spaces on both sides of the Hudson River and protect urban areas from future flooding, while also providing increased waterfront access to millions and refurbishing the harbor’s ecological fabric. For the past three years, NPCA has co-chaired the Harbor Coalition, a consortium of regional advocacy organizations brought together and supported by the J.M. Kaplan and the Rockefellers Brothers Fund. The coalition has sought to bring federal, state, and local agencies together to better align their New York and New Jersey waterfront restoration plans and significantly increase the financial support for green urban waterfront projects.
- Help for Gateway to reach its full potential. After advocating for years to re-envision Gateway as an iconic urban national park, we now have the opportunity to actually do it. Simply put, Superstorm Sandy flattened and flooded Gateway, but the supplemental funding allocates several hundred million dollars to repair and rebuild the park.
- Improvement to Fire Island’s beaches. NPCA has sought to achieve a mutual agreement between area residents and NPS on a beach improvement plan as well as additional sensitive issues such as zoning, off-road vehicles, and the management of invasive species. With flood protection now a priority, the Army Corps, NPS, and New York State have dramatically sped up their efforts to improve Fire Island’s beaches, creating a huge opportunity to address the other issues as well.
Thanks to voices like yours, the Sandy Supplemental far outpaced our expectations in drawing attention to some crucial issues and providing funds to the national parks in the region. Now we have even more work cut out for us to ensure the newly appropriated funds are strategically spent, cost-effectively applied, and focused on key projects that will help elevate New York and New Jersey parks to an iconic status.