Lately there’s been a lot of finger pointing and confusion about Mamaroneck’s plans to dredge the local rivers. Then an about face materialized with a statement from Mayor Murphy that everyone involved was cooperating and getting along. The Mamaroneck Observer wondered what happened.
To find out, we sent an email to Trustee Lou Young and asked for an interview. Questions were included in the email: how things got turned around, how will the scope and budget of the project change, what role did our State elected officials play? We also asked when work will begin.
In response and in lieu of an interview, Trustee Young sent the following statement on February 3rd:
“It seems to me our situation is less of a turnabout and more of a restart in our interrupted movement toward a common goal. As we all know flooding is our community's top priority. While hindsight is always 20/20 I was distressed last year to discover an unused budget line entitled "River Maintenance which triggered the Village Manager's Emergency Declaration and the BOT's subsequent funding of the remedial flood mitigation activity.
I consider this a resumption of the type of work the village commissioned in 2010 for $86,000 (3 years after the previous big flood of 2007) but inexplicably stopped afterwards. An excavator was even approved and funded by the BOT for further work but was never purchased. I'm told we will be accepting delivery of that excavator soon.
That said, I am not the voice or director of this village flood mitigation effort which is independent of and parallel to the Army Corps of Engineers project. The Board of Trustees has given its direction to the Village Manager with the expectation that its desires will be carried out. We have underlined the urgency of this matter to our staff, our elected officials and state and federal regulators who now seem to understand the need for immediate action.
We expect a report from the Village Manager on this at our next meeting.”
Read the full email exchange HERE. Village officials did not respond to other requests for information.
At the February 13 meeting of the Board of Trustees, Village Manager Jerry Barberio confirmed this statement. He reported that, after a site visit with representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), there was a successful agreement for a maintenance permit to remove large debris from some sections of the Mamaroneck and Sheldrake Rivers and the Beaver Swamp Brook. No deep dredging will be allowed. The sections to be cleaned are the Mamaroneck River from Hillside to the North Barry extension, the Sheldrake from the Town/Village border to Mamaroneck Avenue and the Beaver Swamp Brook near Rye Neck High School. Watch his report HERE starting at minute 2:18:34.
A phone call to the NYSDEC after the meeting confirmed that the application was still incomplete. Barberio indicated that they need to submit cross sections of the three areas but did not mention any other deficient data. He stated that both the USACE and NYSDEC were assisting the Village by sharing data they already have or soon will have.
This scope of work (and possibly the budget) is different from what is shown in the application so we did a little digging and here’s a summary of the history we were able to reconstruct.
On March 30, 2022, the Village Manager issued an Emergency Declaration regarding a siltation and deferred cleaning/dredging of the Mamaroneck and Sheldrake Rivers. This declaration was 19 months after the devastation from Hurricane Ida.
On May 9, 2022, the Board of Trustees approved the hiring of a dredging consultant and appropriated $1,357,920 to pay for the work. The project areas were expanded to include the Beaver Swamp Brook and Guion Creek.
Details of the plan were not provided to the public, but Village Manager Jerry Barberio responded to questions at both meetings. He explained that dredging had not been done since 2011 and that several areas had “silted up” to the extent that flooding was occurring during a 2.5” to 3” storm. Barberio acknowledged that various permits would be required, and the Village would start work in areas where access was easier because the property was owned by the Village or the County. Other areas would require permission of landowners which will take time. Staff was already working with the County on permits and access. When questioned, Barberio stated, “I promise you, we will not proceed without the permits.”
Permits are required by law because indiscriminate “dredging” or work in the waterways carries risk of making flooding worse. Municipalities are not exempt from the permitting process.
The specific areas where the work would occur were vague with Barberio speaking in areas where access would be easier and the details would be figured out later. He stated that the Village would not work in areas where the USACE would be working. The four general areas are: Grove Street area, Mamaroneck River from First Street to the Hillside Ave Bridge, Sheldrake River from Rockland to the Salt Shed on Fenimore and the Beaver Swamp Brook and Guion Creek as needed.
Watch Item 2A on the work session HERE. Watch the regular session, Item 4D HERE.
On October 13, 2022, Village consultant, GEI Consultants of Huntington Station, applied for a joint permit to the New York State Department State (NYSDOS) and the NYSDEC. This application’s narrative did not entirely track with the scope as explained at the May 9th meetings as it didn’t mention any previous work. This application also indicated the project end date as 2032 even though neither the scope of work nor the budget reflected a ten year project. Included in the scope was the removal of approximately 20 trees. There was no plan for tree replacement or any other stream bank restoration. Review the application HERE.
On October 31, 2022, the NYSDEC responded in writing that the application was incomplete. They detailed significant deficiencies that needed corrective action. See the letter HERE.
As referenced in the January 24, 2023 letter from the NYSDEC to the Village, apparently the Village removed the Guion Creek tidal wetlands from the application and submitted additional information on November 14, 2022. The NYSDEC responded that same day that the application was still incomplete. Read the NYSDEC January 24th letter HERE.
That letter prompted swift and strong reactions from both Barberio and Mayor Murphy (see emails HERE) who issued a press release dated January 26, 2023 titled “New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Halts Dredging Project in Mamaroneck.” Read it HERE.
February 1, 2023 Meeting
What happened next was billed by Mayor Murphy as a meeting with all the parties present that was “very successful” and led to “a path of cooperation and partnership with our colleagues in government.” Read Murphy’s original statement HERE and amended statement HERE. The amended statement removed a reference to Trustee Yizar-Reid’s attendance at the meeting. A meeting with a majority of the Board without proper public notice is contrary to NYS law.
NYS Assemblyman Steve Otis told us that the NYSDEC was very cooperative and was doing everything they could to help the Village. He and State Senator, Shelley B. Mayer, sent us the following statement for publication:
“We both want to thank NYS Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos for the tremendous help by DEC in assisting the village of Mamaroneck with their dredging permit.
When the village received a letter from DEC on January 24th requesting outstanding information for their permit application, we contacted the agency and arranged a priority meeting within days to resolve unresolved permit issues. DEC responded by bringing other involved agencies, the Army Corp of Engineers and the NYS Department of State, to a very productive meeting with the village.
DEC also agreed to use DEC’s own outside engineers to obtain some of the required hydrology data collection due from the village at no cost to Mamaroneck. As the Senator and Assemblyman representing the village, we will continue to help the village and all state and federal agencies to move our flood projects forward.
We have spoken directly to Commissioner Seggos and continue to be impressed by DEC’s steadfast commitment to the village. We have been in regular contact with Mayor Murphy and support his dedicated efforts to move the village flood projects forward.”
Could things have been done differently? Perhaps.
The Mamaroneck Observer also reviewed the NYSDEC Permit Process for the three permits the Village needed to obtain. While the three application processes are basically the same, one is more comprehensive because it involves the federal government. View the process HERE.
Any project that requires a federal permit requires a pre-filing meeting which did not occur. The absence of this meeting was confirmed with the NYSDEC. When asked about it, they replied that they strongly recommend pre-application meetings. Asked if this could have avoided the problems we encountered, there was no definitive reply.
This meeting might have avoided or minimized the submission of incomplete material and an inadequate plan thus fast-tracking the required approvals and avoiding heightened anxiety for the people who live in flood-prone areas.
Update on the USACE project
Mr. Barberio also reported that the USACE will be 90% design complete for the new Ward Avenue Bridge by July, at which time they will be presented to the public. The new bridge will be more than twice as wide at 85 feet and 20 feet deep. It is projected to reduce flooding in the Ward Avenue area by 6 ½ feet.
At a request initiated from Trustee Lucas, Mr. Barberio agreed to regularly update the Board of Trustees and the public at future meetings.