A house sits off the Hawtree Basin near Jamaica Bay in Queens.Samantha/Maldonado

The Rinse of Tides: Neighborhood Plagued by Monthly Flooding Sees Hope in Sea Gates

The Army Corps of Engineers’ planned gates, meant to protect against future Sandy-like storms could help reduce moon-cycle deluges in oceanside neighborhoods. But some worry that they are not meant for such tidal use.

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Ever since Superstorm Sandy ravaged his neighborhood of Hamilton Beach, Roger Gendron has been pushing for a comprehensive project to protect against flooding.

Not only was the southern Queens enclave wracked by the hurricane 10 years ago, but it also experiences up to a foot of tidal flooding on a near monthly basis — made worse by full or new moons.

So Gendron, president of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, was shocked and delighted in September to learn the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed constructing storm surge gates on either side of Old Howard Beach — at the mouths of Hawtree Basin and Shellbank Basin — as part of a potential $52 billion regional coastal resilience plan.

“You can only imagine how happy I was,” said Gendron, when he read a news report about the plan. “I asked my wife to read it, and she goes, ‘Oh! It’s your flood gates!’”

These gates, along with a series of berms, or mounds of earth, could help reduce flood risk in the adjoining neighborhoods in the event of another storm like Sandy — or worse, thanks to rising sea levels.

And, as Gendron hopes, the project could also mitigate the kind of flooding the area experiences on a regular basis from high tides.

“Not only should we not have to live like that … the people who come to our communities should not have to live like that,” he said.

Gendron has been leading the charge in his neighborhood, helping people adapt their lives around the nuisance flooding, and organizing them to call on the government to take preventive measures.

Now he’s scheduled community meetings to ensure he and his neighbors can be a “squeaky wheel” to ensure the Army Corps project comes to fruition.

Hamilton Beach, a tiny strip of blocks a stone’s throw from Kennedy Airport, is easy to overlook. Yet locals’ experience there serves as an example of the type of flooding other waterfront communities around the city are dealing with — or soon will face — even without storms or intense rainfall.

Tidal Waves

Fewer than 8,000 people live in the census tract that encompasses Hamilton Beach and Old Howard Beach, which are dotted with mostly single-family homes. Some houses directly face the water, and many of those that don’t still have boats parked in their driveways or nearby streets.

There are two high and two low tides a day, with roughly five feet of height difference between them. But during new or full moons, when the pull on the tides is strongest due to aligned lunar and solar gravitational fields, the water level during high tide can rise a foot or more over other times of month.

“Anybody who lives in this area understands we’re gonna get flooding,” Gendron said. “There are times you live your life by the tides.”

Gendron and many of his neighbors have already noticed the increased flooding frequency over his 60 years in Hamilton Beach. He said that streets in the area see flooding during about six months of the year, but he remembers that decades ago, it used to happen in only about two or three months.

Water pours into streets, lapping at porch steps and sometimes seeping into ground-level doors.

“There are times you live your life by the tides.”

Gendron’s observation aligns with national trends: on an annual basis, occurrences of tidal flooding have increased more than twofold around the U.S. since the 2000s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has a tool showing areas that experience such rising water.

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