Flood Zone, NYC

Bloomberg's push for development in the wrong places

Flood Zone, NYC

While the Bloomberg administration has gotten kudos (so far) for the city's emergency response to the storm, the mayor has an elephant in the room: his administration's encouragement of flood-zone development in the face of repeated warnings going back at least a decade.

Indeed, New Yorkers had to be impressed with the efforts of the overwhelmed emergency agencies in trying to deal with one crisis after another. But he has sidestepped questions about his administration green-lighting massive construction in the very danger zones crippled by Hurricane Sandy, despite calls for tighter regulation of such development.

The administration has pushed development by granting major incentives to builders in Red Hook and Coney Island, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, western Queens, on the Rockaways, and along Manhattan's West Side. Flooding and damage were reported in all those places.

On Monday, Bloomberg seemed to dismiss the question, saying: "People like to live in low-lying areas on the beach. It's attractive. People pay more, generally, to be closer to the water." On Tuesday, he modified this only slightly, saying he spoke with aides, and "what's clear is that the climate is changing, and each of these storms, we have to see if you can't learn to deal with them better." His answer then wandered off to topics like generators in basements. "We've really got to start focusing on planning down the road."

From there, he once again lauded the storm response: "We had a good plan, good communications; we knew how to respond."

In January 2011, a report from the state's Sea Level Rise Task Force projected that the water level in New York Harbor will rise two to five inches by 2025. The group proposed additional rules limiting building in flood zones, protecting wetlands and other natural storm barriers, and moving infrastructure to safer areas.

But Bloomberg's deputy mayor for long-term planning at the time, Adam Freed, objected to the proposal because it would stifle development and add another layer of state regulation. "If implemented, the regulatory changes would create unnecessary additional oversight for local land-use decisions and could add significant costs and time to projects in coastal areas," he wrote. "[They] could have an adverse effect on property investment into the New York City—and thus the New York State—economy."

In April 2012, Freed seemed to soften his stance in remarks to the U.S. Senate but still said, "While we all share the objective of protecting and restoring coastal wetlands, federal agencies must recognize the need for regulatory flexibility in urban areas like New York City, where we do not have room to retreat from the shoreline in response to rising sea levels."

In some instances, the city has required additional safeguards in development. The Willets Point development is said to be being built at a higher level to avoid damage from flooding. Floodgates were built into a sewage plant on Tallman Island. Generators and other electrical gear can be sited on roofs rather than in basements.

And, in the months preceding Hurricane Sandy, the city did several things, none of which were short-term in nature. The City Council voted to assemble a panel of climate experts to plan for rising sea levels, and there have been renewed discussions about some kind of movable barrier system.

But the mayor's PlaNYC 2030, his long-term list of proposals for the future of the city released in 2007, included encouragement of development in the flood zones.

A deputy mayor at the time disputed the sea-level-rise projections and said it would be about 1 percent of the predicted five-inch rise—or five tenths of an inch, according to a 2007 article by former Voice staff writer Wayne Barrett.

Barrett pointed out in the piece, which focused on PlaNYC and warned of the future dangers in coastal development, that the Army Corps of Engineers said New York was among the most vulnerable cities to storm surges. When Barrett, as he wrote, tried to get the mayor's office to respond to whether storm barriers should be built, he couldn't get an answer. Barrett also noted that in 2006, Bloomberg insisted that "NYC is not a high-risk area for hurricanes."

Way back in 2000, the Federal Emergency Management Agency predicted that a quarter of the structures 500 feet from the coast will be eventually destroyed by the rising sea level.

A major study called "Climate Change and a Global City" way back in 2001 contained the prediction of a five-inch rise in sea level.

"The key threat of sea-level rise is its effect on storm surges," the report said. "Heightened storm surges associated with future hurricanes and nor'easters will cause the most significant damage. . . . Many of the region's most significant infrastructure facilities will be at increased risk to damage resulting from augmented storm surges."

That was 11 years ago, and today, as scenes of wreckage fill our living rooms, it seems almost shockingly prescient.

 
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6 comments
stanchaz
stanchaz

Romney will dismantle FEMA and the EPA 

(= more $ for the people/corporations).

Leave it to the states he says. Yeah, sure.

Maybe he'll make dams out of used etch-a-sketches?

What we need is a tidal wave

...of voters to sweep these kind of guys out of power.

This is the BEST way to help victims of future Sandys.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZENtH3psXl4&feature=player_embedded

 

J-Lin
J-Lin

This is one of the most sensible and important articles I have seen since the storm.  It truly is the "elephant in the room" that everybody is ignoring.  

stanchaz
stanchaz

I have read news articles claiming that “nobody predicted” this historic tidal storm surge.

Perhaps they should check into the episode of the Weather Channel’s TV program

 “It Can Happen Here”, entitled “What if a hurricane struck NYC?”.

In that program, produced several years ago (which admittedly describes the effects of a much stronger hurricane in a somewhat sensationalistic fashion), geology Professor David Coch (of New York City’s Queens College) very accurately and precisely predicted the devastating consequences to NYC that would be produced by a hurricane taking the track that Sandy took,.... especially with regard to potential tidal flooding.

In that program, Professor Koch outlines the fact that we have an “L” shaped coastline, with the corner of the “L” being NY Harbor. Therefore, any hurricane coming inland into the New Jersey coast to our south, as Sandy did, would cause strong winds and waves to come in from the southeast off the ocean. This would push enormous amounts of water into the corner of the “L” (that is, into New York harbor), as well as -at the same time- pushing sea water surges down Long Island Sound into the East River. All of which would mean that the sea water would have no place to go except the streets, the subways, and the tunnels of low lying areas of NYC, causing devastating tidal flooding. 

Which is exactly what happened.

IF Mayor Bloomberg had understood and heeded the realities of this kind of storm track and scenario (which was very accurately predicted by many forecasters days in advance) ---instead of relying on the erroneous and reckless decision of the Weather Bureau NOT to issue any hurricane warnings for this so-called “hybrid: storm (with 94 mile winds!) 

....THEN.... 

we would have had a much earlier and a much more orderly evacuation - instead of a last minute rush to action by the Mayor and the City on Sunday (the day before the storm).

We of course need to harden our infrastructure. But ...both the Weather Bureau and the Mayor’s advisors also absolutely  need to get their act together for future situations like this, as they begin to occur more and more frequently.... 

 

 

heinz6
heinz6

Nashville Grand Old Opry got flooded a few  years ago, they are finishing a state of the art flood protection system to protect all the buildings—EKO Flood USA designed the closures. With a similar system New York and NJ could be safe.

J-Lin
J-Lin

 @stan11222 

 

Your comments have virtually nothing to do with the content of the article.  Did you even read it?  

mingusal
mingusal

 @stan11222 My guess is that the Mayor and his political staff were sensitive to all of the criticism that they overreacted to Hurricane Irene last year, which was seen as creating a lot of needless inconvenience for people (and there is nothing resented more by New Yorkers than seemingly needless inconvenience, even if warranted by prudence). So the city wanted to wait as long as possible to see if this might be a similar situation, in order to minimize that inconvenience.  As it turns out, they almost certainly waited too long and were quite under-prepared for consequences on this scale. 

 

Somewhat in their defense though, they probably also didn't predict that most people who were told to leave areas exposed to storm surges, and had the means to do so, would ignore those orders.  This has necessitated the unexpected and clearly unplanned-for widely scattered on-site delivery of emergency survival services. Rather than having the human services centralized to shelter sites, while concentrating locally on restarting services and prioritizing reconstruction before people return to their residences, which is what I think they envisioned.  And they may also not have realized that Con Ed would leave a major substation exposed to flooding online, creating an explosion that has left one of the most densely populated and important areas of the city without power, etc. for days on end.

 

I think some measure of blame here must go to the media too.  By crying "wolf, wolf, WOLF" every time we get a couple inches of snow, they have conditioned people to believe that the weather situation never really gets as bad as they say it will be.  So this time, when the media reported that there was going to be a record storm surge, many people just filtered it out as the usual media panic "noise" and paid little or no attention at all.

 
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