Chairman Bond and Senator Clinton, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you and other distinguished members of this committee to discuss an issue of vital importance to my county and to our state. My name is Steve Levy and I am the County Executive of Suffolk County, New York. I am here today in the hope that this committee will not only reject the Administration’s proposed policy initiatives, but will restore federal funding and put forward legislative language that will encourage the regional management of America’s coastal resources and assure that the federal government lives up to its statutory obligations.
Suffolk has a population of about 1.4 million residents and covers the eastern half of Long Island, which extends eastward 120 miles from New York City. We are a coastal county with about 1,000 miles of coastline.
Early last month, in my first report on the State of the County, I said that our coast is both our defining natural resource and a critically important economic asset. Our beaches must be managed intelligently. And, we can’t do it alone.
Our beaches are world famous and have been consistently ranked among the best in the nation. Our beautiful south shore bays contain valuable habitats that support commercial and recreational fisheries and other related activities. However, this complex array of barrier islands, bays, wetlands, mainland coast and associated floodplains suffer the ravages of storm winds, waves, and tides that cause shoreline erosion and flooding hazards. It must be protected and enhanced, not only for its natural value and the enjoyment of future generations, but because it is an essential component of Long Island's tourism/recreation economy, which had an estimated value of $4.2 billion in 2003.
According to a May 2003 report prepared by the Suffolk County Legislature Budget Review Office, the value of spending associated with Suffolk County's Atlantic Ocean beaches generated regional economic benefits valued at $173.4 million in 2003. It was estimated that over 11 million people visit these beaches each year with boating also being an important activity in the south shore bays and ocean. According to the New York Sea Grant Institute, over 120,000 motorboats were registered in Nassau and Suffolk Counties in 2002.
Over my many years in public service, I have come to respect the dedicated men and women of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. These people have served courageously not only on Long Island, but in Manhattan after September 11th and in Iraq today, as America invests in rebuilding that country’s infrastructure.
One of the Corps’ functions, which has been authorized by Congress, is to develop a 50-year storm damage reduction plan for the coast along the south shore of Suffolk County from Fire Island inlet to Montauk Point. This, the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study (FIMP), will result in a regional plan for reducing risks to life and property from flooding and erosion hazards along 83 miles of coastal property in ways that help to restore and maintain ecosystem processes.
The FIMP Study area encompasses 126 square miles in the 100-year storm floodplain. Nearly 160,000 people reside in the 73,000 homes located in the study area. This study, undertaken through The Water Resources Development Act, is especially critical to America’s coastal infrastructure. In Suffolk County it means that we need Congress to fund the completion of the FIMP Study.
Started in 1980, FIMP represents an investment of over 30 million dollars to define the environmental and engineering steps that the communities of Long Island must take to restore and preserve our south shore coastal resources.
Unfortunately, the Administration wants to cut out all funding for this study just as we are approaching completion and readying to move toward the complex and costly implementation phase. The Federal government should not walk away from its responsibilities in this area after two decades of work and the expenditure of millions of dollars. This program has been and must remain a federal, state, and local partnership.
This project has proceeded under a partnership formed to share not only money, but also ideas and information. The Corps, working in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior (National Parks Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), National Marine Fisheries Service, New York State, local governments and stakeholder organizations, is aggressively evaluating the effectiveness of a full range of structural and non-structural alternatives for mitigating erosion and flooding-related problems thereby creating a model of environmentally sound sustainable coastal management.
From a coastal management perspective, this Study is among the most important regional environmental, economic, and public safety initiative. It involves the entire south shore of Suffolk County. The Corps has initiated a novel approach of incorporating environmental principles in this process, which is driving the analysis of future actions.
I am committed to fighting for the completion of the study and implementation of the vision it lays out for the coastal communities of Long Island. I am also equally committed to opposing any effort to undermine the sound partnership program to restore and preserve our nation’s coastal resources that was set out in The Water Resources Development Act.
If we are to successfully attain coastal floodplain protection, shoreline stabilization, safe inlet navigation, and habitat restoration, we require enlightened intervention at a scale large enough to necessitate a continued federal financial commitment to enable the Corps to complete the study. My partners in New York State and local governments do not have this coastal engineering expertise. The Corps alone is the national expert in this field.
Suffolk’s beautiful, but fragile and vulnerable shoreline, which means so much to our local economy and our quality of life, must not be placed on the backburner of federal priorities.
Suffolk County is also doing its part to assist in the implementation of non-structural measures to protect our south shore floodplains. It has been a leader in open space preservation over the past fifty years and has acquired over 50,000 acres of parkland and protected farmlands.
In the south shore study area alone, the County has acquired about 7,000 acres of property. These lands include important parcels located on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline along barrier islands and the mainland coast; on the shores of Great South, Moriches and Shinnecock Bays; and along numerous streams that flow into these bays. All are located within the south shore floodplain that is targeted by the Study. Some of these properties are used for active park and recreation purposes, but many have been managed to preserve wetlands and natural habitats and to protect water quality. In fact, Suffolk County is currently actively pursuing additional acquisitions in the study area that total about 500 acres of shoreline land.
Suffolk County's open space program has direct relevance to the FIMP Study, since it has precluded development in sensitive areas. As such, the County is playing a major role in the use of non-structural measures to reduce potential storm damages in floodplain areas.
I pledge to you today that the County will continue to work with the Corps of Engineers, its cooperating agencies, and stakeholders to assure successful completion of the FIMP Study and implementation of its recommendations. For this to occur, funding must be restored in the Federal Fiscal Year 2005 budget.
The Administration’s failure to recommend funding for the Reformulation Study is directly related to the 180-degree policy about face announced in the President’s Fiscal Year 2005 budget recommendations. Of course, the budget reflects the fiscal problems facing us today. But it seems these constraints have been used as an excuse to eliminate the federal government’s role in restoring and preserving our beaches -- an invaluable national environmental and economic asset.
Not only has the Administration announced that it will not support the periodic renourishment of beach projects, it has also refused to support ongoing environmental restoration projects (i.e., “Mud Creek Restoration Project;” which has become victim of the $25 million nationwide limit that is available for restoration projects through the “Section 206 Continuing Authorities Program”) and programs that mitigate the damage to our shorelines caused by federal navigation projects. The ramifications associated with this policy would mean that our Reformulation Study goes by the boards while people try to turn the clock back 50 years. But a federal-state local partnership has helped maintain the Long Island coastline since the 1930’s. I will do everything I can to work with you to provide necessary funding and to reject categorically the Administration’s coastal policy initiatives. In 1996, this Committee helped to pass The Shore Protection Act-Section 227 of The Water Resources Development Act. It makes a clear statement of Congressional policy that the Corps will do studies of beach erosion and recommend specific projects to Congress for authorization as part of WRDA bills. It also gives preference to regional studies and projects, of which the Reformulation Study is a prime example. Working with local communities and all affected interests in those communities, the Corps has been developing a regional approach to viewing the Long Island coastline. Individual projects may well come out of this study, but each will be a part of a broader regional vision. Section 227 also gave preference to projects that responded to damage caused by various federal actions along the coast. Where the federal government has, for example, funded the construction of a channel or the erection of structures, such as inlet jetties, that promote navigation, it is obligated under long-standing federal law to mitigate for any damage those actions might cause when they interrupt the natural flow of sand to shorelines.
Once again to repeat as I began, I hope this Committee will not only reject the Administration’s proposed policy initiatives, but will restore federal funding and put forward legislative language that will encourage the regional management of America’s coastal resources and assure that the federal government lives up to its statutory obligations.
Finally, let me say a word about periodic beach renourishment and ongoing environmental restoration and flood damage mitigation projects. I urge this Committee to use The Water Resources Development Act of 2004 to remind the Administration that those ongoing components are part of congressionally authorized projects. They are part and parcel of legally-binding “Project Cooperation Agreements.” We at the county and local levels of government make our plans to raise the non-federal share of studies and projects based on commitments made by the federal government. We understand that there may be lean federal fiscal years, just as we may encounter fiscal difficulties that delay studies and projects. But we cannot simply walk away from our commitments. And neither should the federal government.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, it is notable that only one Suffolk County beach will continue to be nourished with federal help if the President’s budget is accepted. That is the beach at Westhampton Dunes, which is the subject of a court order. While I am glad this beach at least will continue to be cared for, I do not think judges should bear the responsibility for setting America’s coastal policy. That is a job for Congress and for state and local governments, working together.
Enclosures -- “Request To Restore Federal Funding For The Mud Creek Watershed Section 206 Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project” (w/o attachments)
“Proposed Authorization Language For Inclusion of Critical Restoration Projects That Are Located Within The Peconic Bay Watershed”