Why did the Trump administration abruptly suspend a critical study of NYC storm protections?

February 26, 2020

Six weeks after President Trump derided a potential NYC sea wall on Twitter, his administration abruptly ended the study that was looking into the idea. Launched in 2017, the NY & NJ Harbor and Tributaries feasibility study was evaluating five measures that could “address severe coastal storm risks” and the sea wall was one of them. On Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that the critical study had been shelved due to a lack of funding and a report that was due to come out this summer would be “indefinitely postponed,” the New York Times reported. The curious timing relative to Trump’s tweet has led many to speculate about the political underpinnings behind the decision. “This is dangerous,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “It’s another of Donald Trump’s blatant political hits on New York City.”

The feasibility study was looking into a variety of shoreline structures as part of its analysis—including levees, floodwalls, and storm-surge barriers—that could mitigate the effects of increasing storms and rising sea levels. The report that was coming out this summer was expected to outline the pros, cons, and costs of each measure. The Corps had previously estimated that a six-mile-long sea wall would cost $119 billion and take 25 years to build.

In response to a New York Times report about the project, Trump tweeted that the idea is “costly, foolish & environmentally unfriendly.” An ironic departure from his typically pro-wall stance, Trump added that the solution “probably won’t work anyway” and “will also look terrible” before suggesting we get our “mops & buckets ready!”

A senior Trump administration official said that the New York study was suspended because it had “little or no programmatic direction or end in sight,” noting that similar projects in Baltimore, New Jersey, and Rhode Island recently suffered the same fate. They added that the administration “remains committed to helping communities address their flood risks.”

“In any given year, if Congress decides to not fund something, that effort stops,” Corps spokesman James D’Ambrosio said in a statement, adding that the study had “to compete for funding with all the other studies in the Corps’ fiscal year work plan.”

Senator Charles Schumer’s office emphasized that it was the Trump administration, not Congress, who pulled the funding. “The administration is being penny-wise and pound-foolish by not funding the studies that allow New Yorkers to prepare for the next superstorm,” Schumer said. “There was no reason given for these cuts—because there is no answer.”

“The administration’s decision to cancel this study is no different than telling New York City to go ahead and drown,” congressman Max Rose said in a statement. “Despite what the President thinks, superstorms cannot be wished away by denying the existence of climate change. These are complicated challenges and every second we aren’t researching a solution, is a second we can never get back—and our city will pay the price whether through more severe flooding, higher insurance premiums, and even lives. This study must be reinstated.”


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