News Wrap: NJ Sandy Funds; Amtrak Tunnel Plans; DEC Grants; MTA Safety Panel; Industry Starts
Seaside Park, N.J
Sandy Funds Ok'd for Boardwalk Fire Work
New Jersey Officials have given formal approval of Gov. Chris Christie's plan to use $15 million of the state's Superstorm Sandy funds for repair of the New Jersey boardwalk that was destroyed by fire last month. The governor announced the plan Sept. 14, two days after faulty electrical wiring under part of the Seaside Park boardwalk triggered a fire that spread to the neighboring Seaside Heights boardwalk.
In a special session last month, the state's Economic Development Authority (EDA) supported the plan to draw from New Jersey's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery funding to cover debris removal work and provide grants and loans to businesses. After Sandy, the federal government allocated funding through the CDBG program to New Jersey and other hard-hit regions.
EDA also agreed to allow work on public infrastructure at the site "to the extent allowable" by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
Some groups, however, have criticized the use of Sandy funding for the fire, especially as some businesses and homeowners are still struggling with recovery nearly a year after the storm.
Michele Brown, CEO of the EDA, said in a Sept. 18 statement announcing EDA's approval that the impacted area is "a critical hub" of business and employment. "The steps we have taken to help the victims of the Seaside fire will not adversely affect any Sandy-impacted business that has applied for grant or loan funding," Brown said. "The unsafe conditions and additional business losses caused by the fire have not only greatly exacerbated the impact from Superstorm Sandy, but have also created a dangerous health and safety hazard, which must be addressed immediately."
Earlier last month, Ocean County investigators found that the wind-swept blaze was accidental and originated underneath a structure that housed the Biscayne Candies and Kohr's Frozen Custard shops in Seaside Park and then spread, destroying more than 50 businesses.
Joseph D. Coronato, Ocean County prosecutor, said that a team of 27 investigators surveying the damage is "confident and in complete consensus that the failure of energized electrical equipment and wiring located under the boardwalk and subfloors of the original structures were compromised by Sandy flood waters and contributed to the fire." He added that the wiring was installed in 1970 and was in a "totally inaccessible" area of the boardwalk.
New York & New Jersey
Work Starts on Amtrak Casing for Planned Tunnel
Construction has begun on an 800-ft concrete casing at Hudson Yards in Manhattan, the first step toward preserving a possible right-of-way for two planned rail tunnels into New York's Penn Station that are designed to withstand future flooding, Amtrak officials say. The project, part of Amtrak's proposed Gateway project, will receive $185 million from the Dept. of Transportation's Superstorm Sandy Relief funds, they add.
The concrete casing will be located between 10th and 11th avenues and beneath the Related Cos. and Oxford Properties Group's Hudson Yards development. Tutor Perini Corp. is the contractor for the project, which involves excavation of about 83,000 cu yd of soil and bedrock and will be 800 ft long, 50 ft wide and 35 ft tall. Completion is set for October 2015.
"The value of the work on this concrete casing cannot be underestimated as it preserves a possible pathway for new tunnels designed to increase the reliability and capacity for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit's operations and will step up the resiliency of the rail system against severe weather events like Superstorm Sandy," said Tony Coscia, Amtrak chairman, in a Sept. 23 statement.
The project is designed to ensure that the right-of-way will have the space needed for the future construction of a two-track train tunnel, Amtrak says. It estimates overall project completion—including work on the proposed two-track tunnel—as early as 2025.
"The Northeast Corridor is at or near capacity at many locations, but nowhere is the demand greater than in Penn Station, New York," Amtrak says. "When one or both of the current Hudson River tunnels need to be taken out of service—such as in the wake of Superstorm Sandy or a homeland security event—the region loses a vital economic artery and evacuation route."
DEC Awards Grants for Water Projects
The New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Hudson River Estuary Program has issued 12 grants worth a combined total of $564,000 for water resiliency projects in the state. The deadline for completed work for each of the grants is December 2014, says Lisa King, a DEC spokeswoman.
The funding comes after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee rocked the region in 2011, says DEC, which is working in partnership with the nonprofit New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) on the grant program. The grants will help to further the Hudson River Estuary's 2010-2014 agenda to conserve, protect and revitalize the waterway, DEC says.
The estuary program is implemented through partnerships, King says. NEIWPCC is a partner whose duties include providing technical support services and managing small contracts.
"These grants further Governor Cuomo's vision of building back smarter and better after recent devastating storms while aggressively adapting to on-coming climate change," said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens in a recent statement. "These projects will enhance the environmental health of the Hudson estuary and help mitigate the impacts of flooding."
Last year, DEC awarded a $1.9-million grant to the estuary program for projects in the Hudson Valley, King says.
Grant recipients include Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J., and ARCADIS, which were jointly awarded $80,000 to research shoreline protection strategies, including New York City natural or engineered reefs, islands and marshes following Superstorm Sandy.