When a high tide and a full moon brought Jamaica Bay to the doorsteps—and car interiors and basements—of Hamilton Beach residents in early February, some found themselves looking longingly across the overflowing basin at the concrete bulkheads on the opppsite shore.
One resident, Margaret Riley, had three feet of water in her basement. “That normally doesn’t happen, not since they put up these walls,” she said at the time.
Hamilton Beach is divided from the rest of Howard Beach by Hawtree basin, a thin inlet of Jamaica Bay that extends north, just east of 99th Street up to 157th Avenue.
On the western edge of the basin, new concrete abutments rise from the edge of the basin at the end of three dead-end streets.
But construction on their counterparts across the water has been put off until at least a year from now, according to local Councilman Joe Addabbo.
Addabbo, who noted that it took at least eight years of urging city goverment to get the 99th Street bulkheads constructed, says it’s a matter of financing and priorities. It is on the top of the priority list for him, and he is urging the Mayor’s Office to move up the project.
Despite the anecdotal evidence from Hamilton Beach residents that the bulkheads on the west side of the basin prevent flooding in Old Howard Beach while making it worse for them, officials say that stopping the water is not a bulkhead’s primary purpose.
“A bulkhead may mitigate some of the waters, but it’s not going to stop it,” Addabbo said, adding that the primary purpose of a bulkhead is to prevent land erosion.
Many residents take the occasional flooding in stride, as a part of living on a floodplain, but some predict that the flooding could get worse in coming years, and building new bulkheads won’t necessarily help residents.
“They need proper coastal protection. Do they need concrete slabs? No,” said James Cervino, a professor of marine biology at Columbia and Pace universities, who lives in College Point.
Cervino also notes that rising sea levels, the loss of the seagrass buffer in Jamaica Bay and strains on the sewage system all contibute to the flooding problem.
The good news for residents of the largely low-lying areas of Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach is that the sewer system recently underwent some needed maintenance. According to Addabbo, workers from the Department of Environmental Preservation were in the area last week, replacing valves and cleaning out the catch basins.