As Sandy anniversary nears, Canarsie celebrates completion of Fresh Creek Coastal Resiliency Project

ribbon cutting fresh creek coastal resiliency project
Canarsie community members join politicians in celebrating the finished construction of the Fresh Creek Coastal Resiliency Project.
Caroline Ourso

Canarsie community members and local politicians on Wednesday celebrated the completion of the Fresh Creek Coastal Resiliency Project at the Fresh Creek Nature Preserve.

On an unassuming patch of land at Avenue M and East 108th Street, city and state officials convened with members of the Fresh Creek Civic Association to officially unveil the long-awaited effort to make the low-lying coastal nabe more flood-resistant. The $14 million project, spearheaded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, installed new tide gate chambers in culverts flowing to Fresh Creek at Avenue K, Avenue L, Avenue M, Avenue M and Seaview Avenue and restored a deteriorated pipe drain outfall.

Restored pipes and drainage systems will reduce neighborhood flooding

Although much of the work done to create better flood protection measures for the neighborhood is underground in the sewage system, invisible to the resident’s eye, a large drain pipe outfall — newly-restored and covered in concrete stones — proudly juts out into the creek at Avenue M, serving as a marker of the project’s completion. 

The gates, installed at junctions where sewage lines meet the creek, will close during storms to prevent floodwaters from entering the sewers and flooding the nabe and allow the existing drainage system to function more efficiently. The newly restored outfall, which was previously blocked by sediment and debris, now flows freely, preventing flooding and mitigates the impact of erosion to the creek’s coastline, said Katie Brennan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. The new outfall was also reinforced to prevent future damage. 

people stand on sewer outfall at fresh creek
The newly-reinforced drain pipe outfall on Avenue M will help to prevent flooding and coastal erosion, and is the only visible part of the $14 million project, which mostly affected the sewer systems.Caroline Ourso

“It’s doing the work for us whether we see it or not, day in and day out,” Brennan said.

Ten years ago, much of Canarsie flooded as a result of Superstorm Sandy. But, even prior to the disaster, residents experienced regular flooding.

“Residents regularly dealt with flooded streets and an overburdened sewer system,” Brennan recalled. “Superstorm Sandy exacerbated this causing widespread damage in Canarsie, flooding homes and critical facilities. High storm surge and high tide lead to waters from Jamaica Bay and Fresh Creek rising above the height of the bulkheads. Water rose from the sewers; it eclipsed the manholes and flooded the streets.”

Canarsie is now a Federal Emergency Management Agency-designated Special Flood Hazard Area. 

“[This project’s] measures are going to help the community adapt to climate change, reduce flooding and improve resiliency so the area can recover more quickly during future extreme weather events,” Brennan continued.

katie brennan at fresh creek ceremony
Katie Brennan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, speaks during the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the finished construction of the Fresh Creek Coastal Resiliency Project on Oct. 26. Caroline Ourso

Brennan noted that this is one of the hundreds of projects the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery has taken on since 2012, and said that it exemplified that community and grassroots collaborations are integral to the office’s process.

Maria Garrett, a 27-year Canarsie resident and president of the Fresh Creek Civic Association, affirmed that community collaboration.

“Nobody knows how long it took for me to get to this point,” Garrett said of the years of work she put into raising awareness of infrastructure problems her neighborhood was experiencing. “But this is my passion, and when you have a passion and a vision for something, you want to see it come through.”

Sandy was ‘just the tip of the iceberg’

“[Hurricane] Sandy was just the tip of the iceberg of what we were going through,” Garrett said.

Garrett, whose home directly abuts the creek, didn’t personally experience flooding until Hurricane Sandy, but she recalled the years-long frustrations of her neighbors.

“We had to start from the foundation [of the flooding problem], which was the sewer system, and then we went to coastal protection,” she explained. “That was the bulk of the work to be done.”

maria garrett at podium
Maria Garrett, community member and president of the Fresh Creek Civic Association, points to her home as she speaks during the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the finished construction of the Fresh Creek Coastal Resiliency Project. Garrett has been working for years to raise awareness of Canarsie’s vulnerabilities and needs. Caroline Ourso

For example, the catch basins, which direct rainwater into the sewers, were not regularly being dredged — leading to pooling water and flooding. The updated sewers have solved that problem.

“I continue to have meetings with the civic association and ask, ‘Who has flooded since the project happened?’ and no one has flooded,” said Garrett. “So we are going to continue to monitor it and make sure we don’t have this problem again.”

Garrett, who also founded the Fresh Creek Nature Association, said the next phase of her ongoing mission is to finish restoring the flooded homes in Canarsie and make sure other areas which also flooded previously get the same attention.

Fresh Creek Coastal Resiliency Project has already brought ‘peace of mind’ to Canarsie

Assemblymember Jamie Williams and City Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse expressed their gratitude to the governor’s office and various government branches like DSNY and NYC Parks which are involved in both the completion of the project and its ongoing maintenance.

“For the past three rainstorms, no one has called me [about flooding]. So we know it works,” said Narcisse. “I’m hoping and praying for the maintenance of it to make sure it continues to work. Don’t forget Canarsie. We need to address the inequities.”

“There is peace of mind now,” said Jennifer Viechweg-Horsford from State Senator Roxanne Persaud’s office. “People will sleep better and live better.”

And there was something special about the timing of the unveiling, Garrett said: “Ten years later, [residents] see that we got something accomplished.