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City upgrades storm protection

In effort to prevent Sandy redux, work begins on bay bulkheads

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On the eerily moonlit night of Oct. 29, 2012, when Hurricane Sandy roared through Long Beach like an out-of-control freight train, Tony Libardi and his life partner, Beth Cohen, thought they could tough out the winds and high water in their home on Dalton Street, just yards from Reynolds Channel.

They were wrong. Twice. They lost two houses that night.

Libardi and Cohen had to evacuate their home when floodwaters rose over five feet. Cohen is only 5 feet 4. They scurried a few blocks away to Farrell Street, to a home once owned by Cohen’s mother. But a car parked in the driveway caught fire in the fury of the storm, taking the house and five others on the block with it.

“That was the house Beth grew up in,” Libardi said. “This was the first time I remember that the bay and the ocean met. That whole night was unbelievable. We had to stand there and watch the fire.”

Seven years after the fury of Sandy, the City of Long Beach is still trying to buttress itself against the wild unpredictability of nature. Work began a few weeks ago on bulkheads for the city’s north shore, to protect public land on the bayfront facing Reynolds Channel. The City Council voted last year to approve a $10 million contract for the construction.

Long Beach was awarded an 18-month contract to build more than a mile of bulkheads from the West End, along West Bay Drive, and public land, through the east end canals along Doyle and Heron streets. The funds are to come from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery.

The city has been working for the past seven-plus years to prevent the kind of damage that Sandy, called a 100-year storm, wreaked on Long Beach. There was beach and boardwalk repair, and there is yet more work to be done, said Acting City Manager John Mirando, a civil engineer.

Mirando said Long Beach’s Critical Infrastructure Flood Protection Project will provide “a significantly higher level of security for critical utilities and vulnerable neighborhoods along the northern shore” of the city. “The project is the next step in the city’s comprehensive process to ensure that Long Beach is being rebuilt with resiliency and sustainability in mind.”

City Council member Liz Treston referred to “the Swiss cheese effect,” meaning no plan to guard against the extremes of nature is foolproof. But, she added, “As a resident, I’m glad to see that the city continues to make progress. There is still much work to be done to protect everyone from future storms.”

The pump station will be located at Riverside Boulevard, and will replace drainage pipes to keep water from flooding the streets. Water will be pumped out to Reynolds Channel.

Still to come is another project, this one from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has approved $20 million in funding to strengthen major infrastructure and provide flood protection. The project will include the construction of a pumping station capable of removing 33 million gallons of storm water from local streets per day. The bids the city received for this project came in higher than expected, so the process will be repeated.

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Garden City who helped secure the federal funding, noted the change in weather patterns in recent years. “As we continue to see extreme weather events like never before,” Rice said, “it is critical that we strengthen our infrastructure so that it can withstand whatever Mother Nature brings our way.”

Libardi and Cohen are safely back on Dalton Street, but they are more wary than ever before. “The way things are happening these days with the weather patterns, it’s crazy,” Libardi said. “Does nature know a storm like [Sandy] isn’t supposed to happen for another 100 years? No.”