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Long Beach approves $10 million of bulkhead work

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A flood protection project years in the making was given another push forward on Oct. 2, when the City Council voted unanimously to approve a nearly $10 million contract for the construction of bulkheads along Reynolds Channel.

In August, the city opened the bidding process for the long-awaited project along public property on Long Beach’s north side to help protect against major storm surges and flooding. The city’s Department of Public Works recently received two bids for the work.

The 18-month project, funded through the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, is expected to begin in November and cover about a mile of property at the north end of streets in the West End, from Magnolia to Laurelton boulevards, as well as two of the city’s three canals, on Heron and Doyle streets. The third canal will be covered by capital funds.

Homeowners who live along the bay suffered some of the worst damage in Hurricane Sandy, and the weakened bulkheads potentially put them and their neighbors at risk for future flood damage.

The plan to protect the bayfront with bulkheading, identified as a top priority by Long Beach’s Community Reconstruction Program planning committee after the storm, was approved by the state in 2014, and was to use about half of the $25 million in federal money granted for the CRP.

Though the work was estimated to cost $12.5 million, the City Council approved a $9.9 million contract with Bayville-based Woodstock Construction Group Ltd., the lowest responsible bidder — $1.5 million below an initial engineer’s estimate, according to John Mirando, Long Beach’s public works commissioner and acting city manager. The left-over funds, he explained, will go toward a separate, $4.5 million CRP-funded drainage-improvement project to help alleviate flooding in the city.

“We’re petitioning GOSR to take those funds and move it into the drainage project we’re designing,” Mirando said, adding that the designs are nearly completed, and the work is expected to go out to bid next spring.

Mirando said that Woodstock is a reputable company that recently completed work on the Minnesota Avenue comfort station on the boardwalk.

The height of the existing bulkheads, homeowners said, ranges from two to three feet above the street. Mirando said that the height of the new bulkheads would be nine to 10 feet above sea level, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s minimum requirement for communities in the 100-year flood plain. The heights above the street, he said, would vary depending on a home’s location.

The bulkhead installation, and a separate, $20 million project to protect the city’s critical infrastructure and neighborhoods along Reynolds Channel — financed entirely by state and federal funds, and expected to be completed in the fall of 2021 — will provide greater protection along approximately two miles of public property that has largely been without it, officials said.

Mirando said that officials would meet with residents when the city has a detailed work schedule.

New bulkheads will be built on the east side of the Doyle and Heron street canals, and at the north end of all streets along Reynolds Channel west of New York Avenue. A steel bulkhead on West Bay Drive, between Magnolia and Washington boulevards, will remain, but will be elevated to meet FEMA requirements and refurbished with a new cap and concrete.

“This is another piece of the puzzle — it’s impossible to do everything at once,” Mirando said. “In addition to preventing flooding, the bulkheads in the Canals will prevent erosion and allow us to redo some of those roads.”

Funding was initially earmarked for the replacement and elevation of bulkheads along the city’s entire north shore, including private property. But the project hit a snag in 2017, when the estimated cost of the work more than doubled to $28 million, forcing the city to revise the plan. According to officials, the consulting firm provided by the state underestimated the amount of bulkheading required for the project, which Mirando said would have cost $30 million.

“We came up with getting all the public bulkheading we could get done,” he said.

To help homeowners rebuild and elevate their bulkheads, the council passed a measure in 2017 to help fund individual projects, whose cost can exceed $30,000. The initiative allows the city to obtain permits, hire contractors and finance the construction, with residents paying back the cost through tax surcharges over 20 years. To date, Mirando said, 25 homeowners have applied, and the city is working out financing issues.

“While this project isn’t going to resolve all our bayside flooding vulnerabilities, it is a step in the right direction,” City Council Vice President John Bendo told the Herald in August. “A fully comprehensive bayfront protection plan will have to be a collaborative effort between the residents, city, county, state and federal governments.”