Construction starts on long-awaited Fresh Creek storm resiliency project

Politicians and advocates ceremonially break ground on the Fresh Creek Coastal Protection Project on Oct. 28, 2021.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

A long-festering Canarsie resiliency project is finally underway, aiming to protect the waterfront community from severe flooding and sewage backup in the event of a severe storm nearly nine years after the nabe was devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

The $14 million project, scheduled for completion next summer, includes the installation of “tidal gates” at the sewers flowing into Fresh Creek at avenues K, L, M, N, and Seaview Avenue. The scheme also includes the reconstruction of an “outfall” at Avenue M that has long been deteriorating to the point that, at present, it’s practically useless in protecting the neighborhood from storm surges.

The view of Fresh Creek from 108th Street and Seaview Avenue.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

The tide gates are essentially “flappers,” as one engineer described it, at the exit point from the sewage pipelines into the creek. During a storm surge, the gates will close up to prevent water, trash, and other debris from entering the sewers and backflowing into catch basins and even people’s homes, as was seen during Sandy. The outfall, which currently has eroding sidewalls and a missing roof, and is blocked by sediment that hinders flow, will be reconstructed using reinforced concrete.

Canarsie and other neighborhoods on Jamaica Bay are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which are rapidly accelerating, already largely entrenched, and will only get worse if major changes aren’t made in the coming decade.

“Climate change is a reality we must address and I am committed to building infrastructure that will protect our communities as we deal with rising seas and increasingly stronger storms,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statementCanarsie is particularly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding, and this project will make the neighborhood more resilient and give residents the peace of mind they need and deserve.”

The construction will be overseen by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY).

Work underway on Fresh Creek Coastal Protection Project.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Canarsie’s precarious perch and outdated infrastructure often leaves residents either dealing with floods or afraid of dealing with floods whenever a storm passes New York.

“Whenever there’s the conversation of a storm, it’s always ‘oh my gosh, let’s check the sewer,” said state Sen. Roxanne Persaud, who reps Canarsie in Albany, at a Thursday press conference announcing the project’s groundbreaking. “Is there water coming in? Is this gonna happen, is that gonna happen?”

“This is one step in the right direction,” Persaud continued. “As we are in the state talking about resiliency across the state, today is a great step for the Canarsie community.”

Maria Garrett, a waterfront resident who heads the Fresh Creek Nature Association and Fresh Creek Civic Association, has been advocating for increased resiliency for 20 years, well before Sandy, but has stepped up her fight since then, after her own home got flooded by sewer backup.

Maria Garrett, president of the Fresh Creek Civic Association and Fresh Creek Nature Association, was a driving force behind the project.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

“I never had an overflow in my home until Sandy,” she said. “And it was the water coming from the creek.”

The creek’s waterfront has been poorly maintained for years, Garrett told Brooklyn Paper, and the bulkheads meant to protect it are damaged or even submerged.

“The bulkhead is destroyed,” she said. “It’s in the water. That’s all along the creek. The bulkheads are literally in the water.”

Garrett said she is pleased that the project is getting off the ground, but that the liftoff is somewhat bittersweet considering it took years to get to this point.

“The damage that was done to this area, way before Sandy, it was unheard of,” she said, “and I’ve been working diligently to get this here project off the ground.”