Category Archives: Environment

Wait…What?


Arturo Santiago • September 25, 2018

Throw away your plastic bags. They say it’s okay. There’s no need to choose which bin is the appropriate one for them. There’s no need to stockpile them for future use. They say this is now the “new normal.”

“They” is the County of Santa Barbara on California’s Central Coast. This is from an article I read online in the Santa Barbara Independent. A fellow editor had sent me the link. After reading the first few lines I said, “Wait…what?”

The reasoning behind the change of heart comes from the China Waste Ban and the new contamination rates being enforced. It seems that plastic bags are getting in the way of attempts to meet those cleaner rates so Santa Barbara County is instituting new recycling rules.

The article says, “The entrails from MarBorg and E.J. Harrison’s blue recycle bins go to Gold Coast Recycling in Ventura, where magnets and screens do initial sorting. The rest is done by hand. Workers pull off the line plastic bags and plastic wrap—because their recycle market has vanished and they must be thrown into the landfill—and the bags ‘snag and pull things off the line that should be recycled, like cans and cardboard. It takes time and energy to sort it out,’ explained Carlyle Johnston with county Public Works. That’s why Santa Barbarans are now being asked to put plastic wrap (like food coverings) and plastic bags into the brown trash bins.”

We dealt with a ban on plastic bags. Recently, Californians have been social media fodder for a ban on plastic straws. Now it feels like we’re going back to the days of the Wild West by simply throwing away our plastic bags, knowing they’ll end up in the landfill.

The Independent says, “‘There’s those who recycle,’ summarized Johnston, ‘those who hope that what they’ve put in the bin is recyclable, and those who just figure they now have two trash bins, one brown and one blue. For errant plastics, the problem by weight is not great,’ Johnston said. ‘But by volume, it’s significant. It’s what appears most in the contaminated bales.’ As much as 18.8 percent of Santa Barbara’s blue bin content is hauled back up to the landfill at Tajiguas as trash. Of the genuinely recyclable stuff, plastics #1 and #2 are melted at a facility in California and remade into items like plastic clam-shell berry boxes or playground equipment, respectively; glass of all colors is crushed in Los Angeles as road amendment; paper goes to Vietnam; and metals’ destination varies with supply and demand.”

The County seems to be making sense. It just doesn’t feel right. And if it doesn’t feel right to residents, will they be able to actually throw away their used plastic bags?

Full disclosure…the offices of MSW Management are located in Santa Barbara, CA.

What do you think about the Santa Barbara Public Works Department declaring that people should now throw away their plastic bags because there’s not a market for them in recycling and they get in the way of recycling material that does have market value?

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Flushing Bay advocates worry LaGuardia AirTrain will threaten waterway


FULL TEXT:

Flushing Bay, once derided for its unseemly smell and murky waters, has started to make a comeback in recent years.

Thousands of people use it to practice and race dragon boats. Families stroll along the promenade, no longer repelled by the powerful rotten-egg smell known to permeate cars driving by on the Grand Central Parkway.

But advocates worry the slow but steady progress will be wiped out by a controversial proposal to build an AirTrain that links LaGuardia Airport with the subway and the Long Island Rail Road.

The first steps in the environmental review process are slated to start later this week, and advocates for the bay are hoping they will get an opportunity to be heard.

“I think it would really take away so much of the work we have been advocating for — clean water, increasing community access,” said Hillary Exter, an avid dragon boat racer and board member of Guardians of Flushing Bay, a watchdog group. “Building the AirTrain either in the water or along the promenade really destroys what is a tremendous resource for the city.”

In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that paves the way for construction over the bay or the promenade. Property owned by the city or the MTA could be acquired by the state Department of Transportation by the use of eminent domain.

“Our current plan is to release a set of documents related to the AirTrain by the end of next week,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said Thursday. “It will kick off the environmental process and I would say all of the issues in terms of a variety of alignments will be addressed in the course of the environmental process.”

Cuomo has argued the AirTrain is needed to reduce traffic and provide a reliable 30-minute trip into midtown Manhattan via Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal.

“AirTrain LGA will set an example of comprehensive transit infrastructure for the rest of the nation, and will pay dividends for decades by connecting riders to transit hubs across the Metropolitan area, boosting passenger growth across all airlines, and providing a more efficient means of travel for generations to come,” Cuomo said in a June statement announcing the bill signing.

It’s also a key part of the $8 billion reconstruction of the outdated LaGuardia Airport.

Randy Ng, head coach of the DCH Dragon Boat Club, said Guardians of Flushing Bay is opposed to construction of the AirTrain but also believes more research has to be done to explore transportation options.

“There is a community here,” said Ng, who lives in Flushing and has been paddling along Flushing Bay for almost 20 years. “The worst route they can take in our opinion is right down the bay. It’s going to cut off usage.”

Ng said the dragon boat community has been a driving force in pushing for better conditions in and around the waterway.

The city Department of Environmental Protection dredged more than 89,000 cubic yards of sediment as part of a $200 million project to restore wetlands to the area and upgrade the sewer system.

The city has embarked on projects in and around Flushing Bay to reduce the amount of combined-sewer overflow that goes into the waterway. Those CSOs happen when sewers, overwhelmed during rainstorms, sometimes discharge a mix of stormwater and wastewater.

Plastic bottles, children’s toys and other flotsam often spill into the bay, carried in by stormwater. Sometimes they are captured by booms set up along the shorelines but not often enough, Ng said.

“The floatables are probably 50 percent of the actual problem in the bay,” he said. “They end up being items that bacteria can grow on, which just increases the bacteria count.”

During a recent community awareness event at Flushing Bay, Dhruv Boruah, an engineer from London, rode his specially equipped bicycle on the water to pick up plastic.

Boruah has made similar trips around the world to bring attention to the problems of plastics and trash in waterways.

“Everything starts from here, canal to bay to river to ocean to the food chain and back on our dinner table,” said Boruah. “Plastic is everywhere. We have to try and find some solution.”

Ng said he worries construction of the AirTrain will add debris into the bay and the surrounding area. Cuomo’s office has said routes cannot be finalized until the environmental review is completed, possibly by the end of 2019.

Construction of the AirTrain could start as early as 2020.

Rebecca Pryor, program coordinator for Riverkeeper and Guardians of Flushing Bay, said the communities surrounding the bay have been cut off from the waterfront for too long.

“New York City’s trend of considering most of its industrial waterways as wasteland has been turning because that’s an inaccurate way to view water,” said Pryor. “People should be connected to their waterways.”


Queens state senator seeks a second chance at law protecting overfishing off Rockaways


Queens Chronicle, September 14th, 2018

FULL TEXT:

A change to the environmental conservation law that would prevent overfishing off the Rockaways is in the works for next year’s legislative session.

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo said that he continues to support a bill that was proposed this year about net fishing a species of fish called the Atlantic Menhaden. This new part of the environmental conservation law would limit the amount of commercial fishing boats that can take these fish.

State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle proposed this bill, but it was not voted on this year while the state Senate was in session.

Atlantic Menhaden are caught using a large net called a seine. Because they can be caught in large quantities under the current law, it is easy for overfishing to occur.

“Overfishing a certain species can have major unseen impacts on our areas’ wildlife, much as the overfishing, or catching, of the Atlantic Menhaden has had in the waters of the Rockaways,” Addabbo said.

Atlantic Menhaden are popular for seine fishing because they are used for fishmeal and fish oil. The species is also popular bait for fisherman as well as a source of food for whales and dolphins.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Atlantic Menhaden population was critically low in 2012. The Commission worked to protect the fish, and now they are making a comeback off the Rockaways and Broad Channel.

Senator Addabbo said he is happy that the fish are coming back as it will positively affect local fishermen and tourism. However, this also means that more boats are looking to seine fish the newly replenished population.

“These ships are not local but rather all based out of Virginia and currently are allowed to enter the NY waters and take millions of Menhaden,” said Dan Mundy, vice president of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers.

The proposed law would prevent these ships from entering New York waters, said Mundy.

New York Senate sessions run from January through June. Addabbo plans to push this law forward during the next legislative session.


Bow hunt will control deer population


Staten Island Advance, April 30th, 2018

FULL TEXT:

Eltingville

The rise in Staten Island’s deer population has caused great concern. It has increased the potential for injuries and death due to deer-vehicle collisions, caused vegetation destruction, increased the amount of ticks and cases of Lyme disease, as well having other implications on the environment.

Since deer migrated to Staten Island, they no longer are susceptible to natural predators, creating an environmental imbalance. When deer are not managed through hunting or their natural predators, they often succumb to starvation, which can be a long-suffering demise. This can result in deer carcasses and bodies left to decay in the woods and streets across Staten Island. Staten Island’s deer population is now at 2,100, up 9,000 percent since 2008.

Cities across the country are facing similar concerns over large deer populations in non-traditional areas where they have no natural predators. Several municipalities have tried sterilization programs, with the mission of cutting reproduction and reducing the deer population over time. New York City has incorporated a sterilization program in an effort to contain the growth in deer population.

Unfortunately, sterilization programs alone, like New York City’s, have been inadequate for significantly reducing the number of deer. According to the NYC Parks Department, Staten Island’s current sterilization plan anticipates lowering the deer population by 10 to 30 percent. Several municipalities across New York state have tried similar sterilization programs, costing millions of dollars with very little significant impact. Eventually, these municipalities have turned to lethal methods, like controlled bow hunting, within a few years to manage the increasing deer population in their areas.

Cities like Rye, New York, and Cincinnati, Ohio, are considering or have instituted a controlled bow hunting program that utilizes a lottery selection process, authorizing a limited number of experienced and trained bow hunters to participate. In Cincinnati, the program focuses in Mount Air Park, which encompasses 1,500 acres. The bow hunting program has proven to help in the effort to control the deer population. In 2016, Cincinnati’s controlled bow hunt resulted in 157 qualified hunters reducing the deer population by 139. Cincinnati’s 10-year program has resulted in a 1,354 reduction in the city’s deer population.

Some of Staten Island’s landscape may be conducive to a limited controlled bow hunting season. Fresh Kills Park, which encompasses 2,200 acres, and the Mt. Loretto Unique Area, which sits on more than 200 acres, each with high concentrations of deer, could be an ideal compromise.

Some may have concerns with potential bow-hunting in Staten Island presenting a danger. Fresh Kills Park and the Mount Loretto Unique Area can fit the criteria for safe bow hunting areas under the state guidelines. There are strict laws and state DEC officers enforce these regulations. According to the latest state statistics, in 2016 there were zero injuries from bow hunting across the entire state. A limited three-week hunting period could be communicated to the public via the news, social media and posting signs to ensure the park land remains safe for all hikers and those who love and appreciate our natural treasures.

A closed, three-week hunting period in these specific areas could provide a reasonable compromise to preserve the eco-system. In December 2017, the New York state assembly, senate and Governor Cuomo authorized cities and towns to consider euthanasia as part of their deer management plans. This would allow them to capture and kill the deer with methods aside from traditional hunting. The city and state should collaborate in developing a limited bow hunting program as part of the Deer Management Plan.

Allowing a select number of experienced and trained bow hunters to participate in a controlled bow hunt on Staten Island could help expedite the reduction in the deer population, potentially saving lives and city money. Deer hunters could also donate deer meat to feed local homeless families and individuals through the “Hunters Feed the Hungry” program.

You can read more about deer management programs in the following links: Cincinnati, OH – Controlled Bow Hunt Questions and Answers 2016 – 2017 : NYS Department of Conservation – Community Deer Management

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Volunteers help build oyster reefs off Jamaica Bay


There’s a use for your old toilet.

WPIX-11, May 16th, 2018

FULL TEXT:

The waterways around New York City get busier every day.

New ferry routes will be added later this summer in the Soundview section of the Bronx and on the Upper and Lower East Side.

But it’s the water quality that concerns some neighbors, so they’re volunteering their time to try and make it better one oyster at a time.

The “Billion Oyster Project” installs and cultivated oyster colonies around the harbor, including in the East River and around Jamaica Bay.

Oysters help filter the water and protect the shore. A century ago, they were plentiful until pollution drastically reduced the population. Volunteers and staff from the project have created the newest installation in Paerdegat Basin near Canarsie, Brooklyn.

In 2016, the city of New York’s Department of Environmental Protection participated in the creation of a giant reef in Jamaica Bay. Thousands of old toilets were smashed and used to create a home for oysters.

A department spokesperson says the project is going well and they’ll will be checking the colony in August.


Man Pleads Guilty to Poaching Deer on Staten Island


NBC New York, March 23rd, 2015

FULL TEXT:

A Staten Island man has pleaded guilty to illegally killing a deer in what may be New York City’s first-ever poaching case.

David G. Oakes was ordered to pay $3,000 in fines after entering guilty pleas to several charges including illegal taking of a deer without a license and trespassing.

Oakes was arrested by state environmental conservation officers at Schmul Playground, in the Travis-Chelsea neighborhood on the west side of the island, on Nov. 11.

He declined comment to NBC 4 New York on Friday.

The Staten Island Advance reports that the man was nabbed after officers caught him dressed in camouflage, carrying a bow. He allegedly set up cans and bait piles to lure the deer into his sights, and had no hunting license.

The man hadn’t actually killed a deer when he was arrested, the Advance reports, but told police he had taken down an eight-point buck in the same spot a year before.

Oakes’ conviction comes as the city’s least populous borough sees an explosion in poaching instances, the Advance reports. The paper reports that at least one poacher killed a deer with a shotgun, but most illegal hunters have used crossbows and composite bows.

Hunting is illegal on Staten Island and in New York City’s other four boroughs. Westchester and Suffolk counties permit deer hunting, but only with a bow.

Deer populations have risen exponentially on Staten Island in recent years.


After Sandy: State’s $96M plan aims to prepare LI communities for big storms


Newsday:


By JO NAPOLITANO: Oct 29, 2014


The state will push ahead with 25 local projects aimed at making some Long Island communities better prepared for a major weather event two years after superstorm Sandy caused $8.4 billion in damages to the region.

These plans, which officials have outlined to Newsday, sprang from the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program and will cost $96 million, officials said.

Critics say these projects — which include bulkheads in Long Beach and drainage improvements in other communities — won’t keep water out of Nassau and Suffolk counties, as many had hoped.

“If you are really planning to protect the South Shore of Long Island, you need to be able to close off the inlets,” said John D. Cameron Jr., chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement the selected plans will help the area.

“These projects are all about building a more resilient Long Island from the ground up,” he said. “We launched the NY Rising program last year to help empower local communities . . . to build back better than ever before.”

His office declined to make a representative available to answer follow-up questions.

Infrastructure proposals


Islandwide, several multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects are underway — dune replenishment on the East End and the strengthening of electrical and rail systems among them.

On a more local level, vulnerable communities were given an opportunity through New York Rising last year to develop plans that would better protect them.

The 25 approved projects come from a list of more than 600 ideas proposed by 21 New York Rising groups across Long Island, mostly along the South Shore. A 22nd group, Bay Shore, is drafting its plans.

Each was made up of volunteers who met repeatedly with state planning experts; elected officials were barred from the process.

A Newsday analysis found that only about 100 of the 229 highest priority projects as selected by the groups could eventually keep water out of Island communities, or better protect homes, businesses and roads once floods occur.

Roughly 30 of the 100 plans would fund only studies — mostly of drainage and shoreline stabilization — meaning that about 70 could bring more immediate relief.

Members of these groups said the priority projects they chose addressed their most immediate concerns, though they are not enough to prevent the type of damage brought by superstorm Sandy.

Erik Mahler, who helped craft the Baldwin/Baldwin Harbor group’s plan, said the region needs to build more costly barriers, like gates.

“All of these little projects . . . will help out during the [Tropical Storm] Irenes,” he said. “The flood gates are the only things that will help alleviate the Sandys.”

Superstorm Sandy stuck on Oct. 29, 2012, and devastated much of the South Shore, particularly in Nassau County. To help with the recovery, Congress approved $60 billion in relief funding for the states affected by the storm.

Money flowed to the Island through several federal channels, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

New York Rising was established to help distribute all of the HUD aid, which is being spent on housing, small business recovery, community reconstruction and infrastructure.

The Island’s $250 million infrastructure allocation represents a sliver of the $4.4 billion in NY Rising funding and was earmarked not only for resiliency measures but also to bolster communities’ economic growth.

New York City got a separate allocation.

Cuomo launched the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program in July 2013.

But the state didn’t get enough of a financial commitment from the federal government to fund the large-scale infrastructure improvements that local communities need to prevent the type of devastation brought by Sandy, experts and officials said.

So the groups said they decided to address other, smaller issues, in many cases.

A representative of the governor’s office said the projects were selected because they had community support and the backing of the local municipality in charge of carrying out the work.

The groups divided their plans into three categories: “proposed,” “featured” and “additional resiliency.”

Newsday’s analysis focuses on only the “proposed” plans because they are more likely than the rest to receive funding, officials said. The projects in that category for the 21 New York Rising groups cost $381 million to $427 million.

The 25 projects announced by Cuomo’s office this week could be implemented soonest — another reason why they were selected, an official said.

The costliest plan, at about $20 million, will fund storm water infrastructure upgrades in Cedarhurst, Hewlett, Hewlett Harbor, Hewlett Neck, Inwood, Lawrence and Woodmere.

It might include the use of pervious pavement, which allows water to move more easily from the roadway to the ground, and landscaping to help remove pollutants from the water, in addition to targeted drainage improvements.

Members of that group did not respond to calls for comment.

In Long Beach, the state chose to fund a $12.45 million project that would replace and install bulkheads along its bay side. Officials said the plan is the most shovel-ready of all the proposals.

City Manager Jack Schnirman said the project will replace sporadic bulkheading of varying heights with a contiguous wall of protection at least 9 feet high.

While he doesn’t know if it would be enough to protect the region from another superstorm, he said it would be a good first step.

“There is no such thing as storm prevention,” he said. “Only mitigation. You cannot prevent Mother Nature from foiling even the best plans.”

Oceanside is slated to get $10.32 million to do an analysis and then improve its storm water drainage system. Likewise, Barnum Island/Island Park/Harbor Isle will see $9.9 million in drainage improvements, the state said.

But not all 25 plans would mitigate flooding or strengthen the communities’ infrastructure.

Fire Island, the Village of Babylon and the Massapequas will get generators, for example.

The Baldwin/Baldwin Harbor group is receiving $800,000 to plan for a resiliency study of long-term future of its commercial corridors.

Mahler said he’s disappointed in the selection because it won’t keep water out of the area.

And it means “real work” could be years off, he said.

‘Huge waste of money’


“It’s a huge waste of money,” Mahler said. “Studies go nowhere. They take years and then people sit around a table and talk about it rather than doing something.”

He wanted a retractable dam at Silver Lake Park and improvements to the sewer system.

A majority — 125 of 229 — of the priority projects proposed by the community groups would do nothing to strengthen infrastructure or resiliency.

For example, the Atlantic Beach/East Atlantic Beach group asked for $2 million to create a community assistance center; Babylon and West Babylon sought nearly $1 million in emergency equipment; Lindenhurst asked for a quarter-million dollars to upgrade its website to make it more nimble in an emergency; Mastic Beach asked for $231,000 to start a 3.5-mile bike path.

Yet in the 400 “additional” or “featured” requests, there are scores of measures that would provide mitigation.

Freeport, for instance, included a program to regularly maintain and protect flood valves, the identification of roads that need to be raised, and a study on how to protect the Nautical Mile from storm surge, sea level rise and coastal flooding in the “additional” category.

Oakdale and West Sayville listed the possible raising of bulkheads in this same category with no cost associated.

Baldwin and Baldwin Harbor listed the installation of 25 tidal valves and the identification of long-term retreat and resilience options for residents and businesses as “featured” items.

South Valley Stream did the same, placing bulkhead repairs in that same grouping. The cost would be $5.5 million for two such projects. That group also listed the study of floodgates and flood protection alternatives at Hook Creek and Motts Creek and the elevation of Rockaway Turnpike and Nassau Expressway as “additional” measures with a $920,000 price tag.

South Valley Stream is getting $1.7 million to restore the natural shoreline along a greenway walking path along Valley Stream at the end of Cloverfield Road North, planting trees, creating more open space and installing other green infrastructure. It was one of the New York Rising group’s top projects.

Freeport, in an effort to better protect its electrical infrastructure and prevent power outages, will get a “proposed” request of $3 million to replace and extend the buried portion of key electric distribution cables beyond its boatyard to protect the lines from freed boats and debris during storm surges.

A representative of the Freeport group could not be reached.

Though some hail such plans, others wonder if projects like this will protect the area in a major storm.

“It will help, but is it going to prevent a flood? No,” said Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy. “It may provide a safer environment in the case of a flood, but in my opinion, providing some type of a gate at the inlets and building up the barrier island would better protect Nassau County.”

Defending choices


Members of the New York Rising groups defended their choices.

Atlantic Beach and East Atlantic Beach will get $720,000 to make the existing Water Reclamation Plant better able to resist future storms. Jonathan Kohan, co-chair of its New York Rising group, said the money will serve a critical need.

Without wastewater treatment, he said, residents would have to leave during a storm. Although saltwater poured into the plant during the storm, it still was able to operate during Sandy.

The second biggest priority, Kohan said, are health and safety issues, which is why the group would like solar-powered streetlights.

“We were in darkness for 10 days to two weeks,” he said. “By doing this, we are protecting our lives and property. Our community has taken the position that these things are fundamental to the safety of our residents and that’s why they are the first couple of projects in order of priority.”

In West Islip, the state announced plans for a $1.3 million capital improvement study — mostly focused on drainage.

Some improvements would be made from its recommendations.

Larry Donahue, who helped craft the group’s plan, was looking for something more extensive and concrete two years after the storm.

“I guess that’s a good step,” he said, but he thought the document his group came up with was already a study and that it clearly outlined what is needed. “I don’t mean to rain on this parade, but when does the community get to see something? I can’t say I’m overjoyed with it. I can’t help wondering after the election is over, is anybody going to remember any of this stuff? Will there be any follow-through on it?”

Resiliency questioned


None of the projects will dramatically improve Long Island’s resilience and for that, experts say, it’s worth examining infrastructure projects in other parts of the country and the world.

Dunes in the Netherlands stand 30 feet high in some places; highways are built upon them and vegetation holds them in place, said Malcolm Bowman, a world-renowned oceanography expert.

Long Island might want to consider a similar plan, though it’s unfathomable to some residents, said Bowman, a professor of physical oceanography at Stony Brook University.

“The downside is that they cannot see the ocean from their front windows,” Bowman said, adding that Long Islanders can’t have it both ways. “That is a bugaboo here. Nobody wants to lose the view.”

Jay Tanski, New York Sea Grant Coastal Processes and Facilities Specialist, said the state is skipping a crucial step: New York must first study its shores to have a better understanding of how they’ve changed in the past 50 years.

Right now, he said, such studies are scattershot.

“We don’t have enough information about the shoreline,” he said. “Some of this money could be spent to develop a program to truly understand what is happening on the coast.”

This is particularly true of the North Shore, Tanski said, where far too little data has been collected. Without this knowledge, it would be difficult to develop a solid shoreline stabilization plan, he said. The North Shore did not suffer as much damage as the South Shore during Sandy. “Even the low-energy shorelines are changing,” he said. “But we have no information on that process.”

Catch basins, bulkheading and the restoration of wetlands could help, Cameron said — his engineering firm worked with some of the New York Rising groups in Suffolk County — but what the region really needs, in addition to dunes and sea gates, is major elevation of its critical infrastructure.

As for the sea gates, the cost is a deterrent, Cameron said.

“They are expensive today,” he said. “But what if you knew within five years you would get another Sandy? Would you say it’s too expensive? You probably could build a system on the South Shore of Long Island for less than the damage caused by Sandy 2. But that was not an option for the present level of funding.”

Before any of the 25 projects approved by the state gets underway, the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery will pay for their environmental reviews. The state brought on Hunt, Guillot and Associates, a Louisiana-based project management and engineering services firm with a history of shaping large- and small-scale infrastructure projects, to make sure each plan is eligible for federal grants and to ensure the monies are spent according to federal requirements.

In addition, local municipalities must each draft agreements saying they will adhere to all federal guidelines. And they must file a 30- to 40-page application detailing their plans and related costs — all before a single shovel hits the ground.