News Column

Bloomberg Plans to Stormproof New York City

June 12, 2013

James M. O'Neill

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious 400-page plan Tuesday to build a wide array of coastal structures, from dunes and levees to surge barriers and even an entire new buffer neighborhood in lower Manhattan, to protect the city from the type of flood damage that occurred after Superstorm Sandy last October.

"This is urgent work, and it must begin now," Bloomberg said of the $20 billion plan, developed in the months after Sandy. "This is a defining challenge of our future." He said that as bad as Sandy was, future storms may pack even more devastation as sea level rise continues. But he said the city will not retreat from its waterfront, which plays a vital economic role. "We must protect it, not retreat from it," he said.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, similar planning to harden the state's vital infrastructure against storm damage has proceeded largely in the shadow of the state's focus on cleanup and rebuilding at the Jersey Shore in time for the vital summer tourism season.

While Bloomberg could bring under one umbrella all the planning efforts for the city, New Jersey's hardening needs are more diverse and spread over a far longer coastline, and will be handled by numerous local and regional governments as well as the state. Some state environmentalists said that is all the more reason Governor Christie needs to take a strong leadership role as the state's focus on rebuilding the Shore gives way to choosing the tools that will reduce the future effects of storms, flooding and sea level rise.

"So far, the state has not been pushing communities to really thoughtfully plan about how to protect themselves before the next storm," said Debbie Mans of the NY/NJ Baykeeper. "Nor has the state been pursuing regional planning, so we can make sure that one town's action does not cause problems downstream.

"The state needs to take a more leadership role, like Mayor Bloomberg, with developing a plan and best practices for creating a more resilient coast," Mans said.

'Working on the fly'

The Christie administration countered that it is working simultaneously on two fronts. "We don't have a 400-page plan, but we have been doing -- not planning," said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "We've been working on the fly attempting to rebuild for the future so people can pick up their lives quickly, but in a way that protects them and the state by being more resilient. This is a massive project -- we're reengineering the entire coastline."

The state has implemented new requirements for elevating coastal buildings. Christie has pushed reluctant coastal homeowners to allow sand dunes to be built on their property, and he has started a program to buy out some flood-prone communities.

At the same time, the state's utilities have been drawing up their own proposals to harden facilities. PSE&G, for instance, recently submitted a proposal to the state to spend $3.9 billion over a decade to raise substations that were damaged by water, protect flood-prone gas lines and place wires underground in strategic locations.

The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission has asked for federal grants of close to $800 million to protect its treatment facility in Newark, which was inundated by Sandy's storm surge. NJ Transit is looking at a $565 million project to build new rail yards to store trains during storms, after its low-lying Meadowlands rail yard was flooded after Sandy, damaging 272 passenger cars and 70 locomotives.

A $2.4 million state and federal study commissioned a year ago to weigh the benefits of various projects that could reduce flooding in communities along the Passaic River basin should be finished by year's end.

Bloomberg's plan for New York includes a double dune system for Breezy Point, wetlands restorations to absorb floodwater, offshore breakwaters off Staten Island, and a series of surge barriers on Newtown Creek, Coney Island Creek and across the opening of Jamaica Bay that could reduce neighborhood flooding.

He called for stone flood walls along southern shores of Staten Island and Brooklyn, and permanent levees as high as 20 feet along Staten Island's eastern coast. He said such projects, instead of being mere ugly, imposing walls, could be integrated into neighborhoods by including parklands and boardwalks along the top.

He said that Battery Park City, developed to withstand flooding along lower Manhattan's Hudson River shoreline, helped prevent inland flooding, and a similar new buffer neighborhood could be developed along the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which he called Seaport City.

Bloomberg also outlined projects to harden utilities and plans to lobby Washington for changes to the federal flood insurance program.

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(c) 2013 Record, The; Bergen County, N.J.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

Source: Copyright Record, The; Bergen County, N.J. 2013

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