Schumer Pushed Back Against Bureaucratic, Last-Minute Debate Between Fed Agencies Over Granting NYC Critical Easement At Miller Field To Maintain & Operate New Seawall; Boondoggle Risks Real Delay To Critical Project

Legislative Fix, Now Awaiting Senate Vote, Grants Army Corps and NYC Site Access Needed To Officially Construct and Maintain Seawall Located On Fed Park Land; Easement Is A Final Puzzle Piece Before Design & Construction Can Start

Schumer: We Are At The One-Yard Line – But The Senate Needs To Vote  

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer made a public push today to –at long last—defeat a bureaucratic boondoggle threatening the construction of the Staten Island Seawall. Schumer is pushing U.S. Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to bring a legislative lands package to the floor of the Senate for a vote that will allow the National Park Service (NPS) to grant an easement to New York City for access to land so they can perform maintenance and general operation controls at the Staten Island Seawall. The bill would then go to the House, where it is certain to pass. Schumer successfully inserted the legislative solution into the federal lands package in an effort to push back against a hurdle that threatened to long delay, or possibly upend, the Staten Island Seawall project so critically needed to protect the Island in the event of a major storm.

“We are ready to tear down the wall of federal bureaucracy and get to work on building the Seawall Staten Island needs, but first we need the Senate to vote on the legislative fix, and so, we are here today to make a public push to get it done” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “This legislative fix will force the National Park Service to grant the Army Corps and New York City the site access needed to officially construct and maintain the seawall, but we’ve got to bring it to a vote so this can all happen, and happen fast.”  

The bill Schumer has successfully pushed, the Natural Resources Management Act, S. 47, is a bundle of over 100 individual land bills and allows for NPS to grant an easement in Gateway National Recreation Area, which is a unit of NPS, to New York City for access to the land so they can perform future operation and maintenance on the sea wall. The problem Schumer has been pushing to fix has been that the Sandy supplemental tasked Army corps to build the sea wall, but for local sponsors like New York City to take care of those projects in the future, they need continued access to the property. In this case, Army Corps would not build the sea wall on NPS property unless the city also had property interest, like an easement, in the project to guarantee that they could do the operation and maintenance. The legislative success today is that the bill allows for the city to meet the standard that Army Corps has set out for the city to be able to perform future maintenance on the sea wall, thus allowing for the corps to build the sea wall on NPS property.

The seawall project provides protection for Staten Island homeowners from disastrous storm surges and rising tides. Hurricane Sandy devastated the neighborhoods along the East Shore of Staten Island. The residents of Staten Island bore the brunt of this catastrophic storm not only in the form of destroyed homes and businesses, but also through devastating loss of life. Staten Island will be made stronger and more resilient with the completion of this project. Schumer has long said that it is crucial that federal agencies along with local partners continue to work together to ensure the safety of homeowners and the construction and maintenance of the seawall.

The Army Corps South Shore Seawall project, which stretches from Fort Wadsworth to Oakwood Beach, includes a buried seawall with a raised promenade through the Miller Army Airfield Historic District, which is under the control of the National Park Service (NPS) as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. After the project’s completion, New York City must retain access to the entire seawall, including at Miller Field, for the purposes of operation and maintenance. In the 2016 Project Feasibility Report, NPS had determined that they will grant an easement to the City for the placement, maintenance, and operation of the seawall but recently, NPS had determined they may not.

However, starting in July 2018, the Solicitors Office at NPS re-opened a review of their legal authority to grant the easement under the 1972 legislation originally establishing the Gateway National Recreation Area, threatening to interminably delay the signing of the Project Partnership Agreement that is necessary to lock in funding and move the project forward. Schumer responded to this renewed legal review by meeting with then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to bring this potential issue directly to his attention and request that NPS cut through the red tape and achieve an administrative solution to the easement issue.

This past August, Schumer personally met with Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke and detailed an agency-to-agency quandary related to the final details of the seawall construction, which involves the need for the Army Corps and New York City to be granted, what is called an easement, in order to begin construction on the seawall and its maintenance in the future. Schumer urged Secretary Zinke to allow the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), which oversees the seawall land, to administratively grant this easement at Miller Field ASAP and propel project construction. The Corps needs the easement to move forward with construction of the seawall and the city ultimately needs the easement for the responsibility of maintaining the NPS land and the sea wall in perpetuity.

Simultaneously, Schumer worked across the aisle with then-Congressman Dan Donovan to craft a legislative fix that would enhance the authority of the Interior Secretary within the Gateway National Recreation Area to grant easements and rights-of-way for projects like the South Shore Sea Wall that prevent flooding and shoreline erosion. After that legislation failed to pass at the end of 2018, when a potential deal over a package of similar lands bills fell apart, Congressman Max Rose reintroduced identical legislation at the start of the new Congress, as part of a new lands package, which Schumer worked to shepherd through the Senate. Schumer also partnered closely with the Army Corps to ensure that the necessary preparatory work, including geotechnical boring and sampling, continued so that the project’s timeline wouldn’t be further delayed.

Senator Schumer was joined by U.S. Representative Max Rose, Assemblyman Michael Cusick, and Borough President James Oddo.


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