Picture above: LiDAR image showing flooding of New York City at 4 foot water heights over the area.
NEW YORK – Thursday afternoon, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer was joined by advocates, leaders, and residents from lower Manhattan for a press conference marking the sixth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which on flooded lower Manhattan and much of the region on October 29, 2012 with 9- to 12-foot storm surges, claiming 43 lives in New York City alone.
Sandy caused an estimated $71 billion in economic damage to the New York-New Jersey region, with $19 billion in losses accruing just within New York City. While the storm’s immediate impact lasted only weeks, major infrastructure systems, including mass transit, its tunnels and electrical and telecommunications systems, sustained lasting damage, some of which are still not repaired.
At the press conference, the leaders discussed the status of planned resiliency projects and investments in lower Manhattan, government’s failure to move forward quickly on certain critical projects, and the need for a coordinated, layered, regional approach to protect against future storms and sea-level rise.
The leaders called on the mayor and city government leaders to support a regional storm surge barrier and to devote significant capital funding to the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project. Significant investments are underway or planned for Manhattan’s Lower East Side, with federal commitments of $338 million, city commitments of $422 million, and planning underway, but the Financial District and neighboring Lower Manhattan neighborhoods remain unprotected and extremely vulnerable both to storm surges and rising sea levels.
“Storm surges and sea-level rise are clear and present dangers to the safety, security, and economic future of this city,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “The task is enormous, but we can’t turn away from it – we need to be working toward a regional storm surge barrier that can prevent the next Sandy, and perimeter walls, marshes, berms, and other features that can protect and preserve all our at-risk neighborhoods – especially lower Manhattan.”
“Six years after Superstorm Sandy, we continue to witness the negative impacts of climate change with the understanding that another storm of this magnitude could occur again,” said Congressman Jerry Nadler. “It is imperative that that we support, fully fund and implement resiliency measures across New York City to ensure that our city and all its residents are protected from future natural disasters. I am committed to continuing to fight alongside my fellow elected officials, the community and all stakeholders to make sure that a comprehensive plan is developed and put in place to protect our coastline.”
“This somber anniversary is a time for us to reflect on the damage that Sandy wrought on our neighborhoods, and the long recovery that is still taking place. However, this day should also be a wake-up call about how far we have yet to go in terms of protecting our homes, small businesses, and infrastructure from the next big storm that we know will come,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “I am proud to join so many people involved in the effort to create a more resilient city, which must begin where New York began – right here at the Seaport. Thanks to Borough President Brewer, Captain Boulware, Catherine McVay Hughes, and others who have never forgotten the lessons of Sandy and how we need to continue to work together.”
“Events like Sandy will happen again and with greater frequency. Rising sea levels will incrementally increase these flooding events. Normal tidal cycles will come with greater risk of inundation, and the Seaport remains incredibly vulnerable to events like this,” said Captain Jonathan Boulware, President of the South Street Seaport Museum. “The Seaport Museum is actively at work on resilience for its own physical plant, and actively engaged in efforts related to city-wide resilience. This is the future of New York City. How will we adapt to this new challenge? How will 22nd century New York be thriving precisely because of the work and planning we’re doing today?”
“Six years later, the City, northern New Jersey, the Hudson River Valley, and the south shore of Long Island are just as vulnerable as they were the night before the storm hit. Conflicting statements and positions by special interest groups abound,” said Malcolm Bowman, Distinguished Professor of Coastal Ocean and Estuarine Dynamics at Stony Brook University and Chair of the NY-NJ Storm Surge Working Group. “The NY-NJ Storm Surge Working Group is a visionary and representative professional group which sees more clearly than most that the only way to save the region for the next 100 years is a regional solution that transcends political and geographic boundaries. We call for a hybrid regional approach to protect against the separate threats of storm surge and sea-level rise. One-size-fits-all impossibly high seawalls cannot realistically hope to defend the 1,000-mile shoreline against the combined threats of storm surges and future sea level rise.”
The hybrid system proposed by the Storm Surge Working Group consists of:
1. A regional outer NY Harbor Sea Gate system to address threats to life and property from future storms (but not gradual sea level rise). Built as far away from densely developed areas as possible, and normally open 99.99% of the time during settled weather, sea gates will not interfere with the normal tidal circulation and river discharge, necessary to maintain the ecological health and water quality of the Harbor and the Hudson River.
The gates would be closed for only a few hours during extreme high tides and storms to block the ocean surges without causing backups inside the barrier and damage elsewhere, especially to neighboring communities.
Without the regional barrier, many communities could be left out of a comprehensive solution. These include communities around all sides of New York Harbor, the outer Boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, Jersey City, Port Elizabeth, Hoboken, the Two Rivers, up and down the Hudson River Valley, the three major airports, and along the south shore of western Long Island, including Jamaica Bay.
2. Local perimeter, land-based, low-profile seawalls, which, while they cannot protect against storm surges, will provide critical protection from gradually rising sea levels over the decades and centuries ahead. Investment to erect seawalls and other barriers are on track in some, but not all of the areas that need them. Some plans currently under consideration call for higher walls intended to provide protection against storm surges as well, but these are ineffective when compared to a regional surge barrier, and would also interfere with waterfront access.
“The Financial District is the fourth largest business district in the country,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, who served as chair of Manhattan Community Board 1 during Sandy and the recovery period. “One out of every 18 jobs citywide is here, and 50,000 people call FiDi home – yet there is no coastal defense at our shoreline or anywhere else in our neighborhood!”
“Six years after the shock of Superstorm Sandy, too many of our neighborhoods are just as vulnerable now as they were October 29th, 2012,” said Roland Lewis, President of the Waterfront Alliance. “We must recognize that there is no silver bullet – all adaptation options for our coastal city must be considered and implemented. More important, there is no silver – local, state and federal government must find the resources to invest in protection. Last and most important there is no time – downtown Manhattan and the entire city of New York must recognize the urgency of now to protect our city in the face climate change.”
The New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study includes Natural and Nature-Based Feature Examples such as Tidal Marsh, Vegetated Dune, Oyster Reef, and Freshwater Wetland. It is imperative to save the Metropolitan Region while maintaining healthy Hudson and East Rivers.
For more information is available on the US Army Corps of Engineers New York/New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study website.