By Bill Lawyer
In recent months people involved with improving Rye’s resilience to serious storms have expressed concern that the Rye Rising projects that were initiated are “going nowhere.” Further, the City may lose funds that were awarded by New York State due to failure to meet deadlines spelled out in the contract, which expires in 2019.
But before looking at recent developments, some background information is needed to help understand what’s at stake.
It’s been ten years since two serious floods took place in 2007. Then along came Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012. Following each of these disasters people looked to government to help — not only with cleanup, repair, and restoration, but also with designing structures and infrastructures that were more resilient — for the inevitable storms that would arrive in the years to come.
Committees were formed and inter-municipal studies, watershed-wide in scope, were begun. Rye was greatly impacted by the rainfall in the upper Blind Brook watershed, where the amount of impervious surfaces has greatly increased in recent years, due mainly to the construction of new homes, office buildings, and roadways.
But Rye wasn’t the only Westchester community to seek help with the serious damage from the rising tides and inundated streams and rivers.
After the 2007 storms, Westchester County developed a special fund for municipalities that had viable projects for diminishing the impact of storms.
Fortunately, Rye had been involved with the Long Island Sound Watershed Intermunicipal Council (LISWIC) for many years and was ready to move forward.
Rye was one of the first to be awarded funds, which were used to restore the sluicegate at the Bowman Avenue Dam on Blind Brook.
A committee of residents, many of whom lived in and adjacent to Indian Village, was established to assist the Rye City Council in identifying and prioritizing improvement projects.
Over the years, Rye has participated in several projects to stop damage caused by storm-water runoff. These include planting trees and shrubs and expanding wetlands to retain rainfall, and the installation of dry well equipment.
After Irene and Sandy, New York State developed a new program for resiliency improvements, New York Rising, and the City of Rye submitted a proposal.
Rye established an 11-member committee, chaired by Bernie Althoff and Holly Kennedy, that assessed storm damage and current risk, identified community needs and opportunities, and developed recovery and resiliency strategies. The other committee members were Mack Cunningham, Frank Gadaleta, Rex Gedney, Sara Goddard, Gregg Howells, Josh Nathan, Richard Runes, Tracy Stora, and Birgit Townley. In preparing the grant application, the committee held a wide range of community meetings.
Grants of $3 million to $25 million were awarded around the state. In 2014, Rye received $3 million for implementation of projects, along with additional funds for the planning process required to make sure the funds would be used wisely. In order to receive the funds, the project had to be approved by the City Council. It was, in September of 2015, but not unanimously.
The State also helped communities such as Rye identify other federal, state, local, non-profit, and private resources to supplement this funding. Some projects and actions identified in the plans are longer-term, and need further development before their implementation can begin.
Rye’s ten proposed projects were focused on three goals:
• Stopping flooding at the source through modifications to the Bowman Avenue sluicegate, developing new retention ponds, expansion of the Upper Pond, expansion of the ponds at the airport, and resizing the lower pond between Bowman Avenue and the culvert crossing under I-287.
• Increasing resiliency by improved drainage at Milton Harbor House, building a new bridge to the Rye Nature Center, and flood-proofing the Locust Ave firehouse.
• Readiness for future storms through establishing a citywide emergency center, and flood-proofing non-profits in the Central Business District.
Once funding for one or more of the projects was awarded, the committee worked with the City to prepare a request for proposals (RFP) to carry out the engineering studies to determine what the costs would be for one or more project.
The funding is only available, however, if the projects achieve requisite cost/benefit ratios, notes City Manager Marcus Serrano, a fact confirmed by Catie Marshall of the New York State Homes and Community Renewal Agency/Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery.
After there were no responses to the RFP, the City arranged to work with the Dormitory Authority for the State of New York, which is empowered to do engineering feasibility studies. The firm of Parsons and Brinckerhoff was hired last fall, but they did not proceed. The firm of O’Brian and Gere was then engaged, but their initial draft, submitted in January, was deemed incomplete in terms of cost benefit.
By that time, only two projects were in the running for the New York Rising funds that had been awarded: upgrading the electronic sensor system regulating the dam sluicegate, and improving drainage at Milton Harbor House.
The completion date of the presentation of the cost-benefit analysis kept being pushed back, first to the spring, and then the summer. The report will now be presented at the September 13 City Council meeting. A copy of the meeting agenda with related reports is available at ryeny.gov.