WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 17, 2013) -- The $5.35 billion authorized for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects to mitigate damage caused by Hurricane Sandy is enough to reduce future risk, the Army's chief of Engineers told Congress.

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick testified Thursday before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure during a hearing examining the progress of Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. He was joined on Capitol Hill by directors of the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Sandy made landfall in New Jersey Oct. 29, 2012, causing 131 deaths and $50 billion in damage along the Eastern Seaboard, with the Northeast receiving the brunt of the destruction.

Congress subsequently approved the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act to provide emergency disaster assistance and this measure also included the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013.

That legislation totaled $5.35 billion for the Corps. Bostick said that "bipartisan" support from Congress was "unparalleled" and he added that he "feels good about where we're at."

Bostick testified where the Corps is now in its efforts, describing their projects as three-pronged: near-term, investigations and construction.

In the first prong, the near-term efforts support repair of previously-constructed Corps projects such as dredging of navigation channels, rebuilding damaged Corps-operated structures, and beach restoration.

The Corps has currently placed about 12 million cubic yards of sand to bolster dunes and berms, he said, adding that work will conclude by the fall of 2014. Most of the other projects should be completed by the spring of 2015.

Bostick noted that "up and down the coast where there were risk-reduction projects in place prior to Hurricane Sandy, these fared much better than in areas where there were no completed projects."

In the second prong, investigation efforts involve the completion of ongoing studies such as the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study, he said. That study aims to develop "coastal resilient communities" along the 31,000 miles of coastline from Maine to Virginia.

The study considers factors like climate change, rising sea levels and ways to compensate this by improving ecosystems and warning about property and populations that are in risk-prone areas.

Bostick said some 90 government and academic entities with expertise in science, engineering and the environment are involved and the final report will be presented to Congress in January 2015.

Regarding the ecosystem improvement aspect of the study, some of the congressmen quizzed Bostick about "non-structural alternatives."

He replied that no such requests have been made to the Corps thus far, but those could be considered as possible options.

Non-structural alternatives are disaster-mitigation efforts like expanding marsh lands, restoring floodplains, removing levees to reduce flood elevations and so on.

Committee members acknowledged they would need to have discussions with communities and among themselves about the costs and benefits for future non-structural alternatives.

In the third prong, construction, the Corps is implementing flood-risk reduction projects previously authorized but not constructed in time for Sandy's landfall. Bostick said expedited planning and design are now underway for 18 of those projects.

About nine projects are expected to be completed by mid-2015, with the remainder completed by 2016.

In conclusion, Bostick said, "Hurricane Sandy demonstrated vulnerabilities of coastal communities and the need for all levels of government to take this on as a collective and shared responsibility."

He added that it's critical to keep communities informed about ongoing projects and why they're needed. Those ongoing outreach efforts with communities can help to "clear up misconceptions and communicate risks."

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