Brooklyn Navy Yard (PIX11) — New York City is built around an ocean harbor and its estuaries. Tens of thousands of its residents were flooded out by super storm Sandy. Global temperatures are rising, and ocean levels are doing so along with it. The city is likely to be even more susceptible to flooding and potentially deadly conditions as the planet warms, and storms become more frequent and severe. Those were all premises upon which Mayor Michael Bloomberg based a presentation Tuesday afternoon for his plan to protect New York from the physical effects of climate change.
“He’s the right man, in the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons,” said Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, introducing Mayor Bloomberg for his presentation at a Brooklyn Navy Yard facility.
The mayor then began a presentation that lasted longer than an hour, which summed up verbally the content of the 439-page report, titled “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” that he released simultaneously.
“Whether you believe in climate change or not,” Mayor Bloomberg said, “we can’t run the risk. As New Yorkers, we will not abandon our waterfront. We must protect it, not retreat from it,” Bloomberg said.
The report, which is the result of years of study on the risks New York faces from climate change, also discussed 60 proposed protections against those risks. But specifically excluded from the report is one proposal that has been implemented in other major coastal cities.
“A giant barrier across the bay is not practical or affordable,” the mayor said, referring to what’s been dubbed the Outer Harbor Gateway. If it were to be built, it would be a stone, earth and concrete barrier that would extend six miles across Lower New York Bay from Sandy Hook, New Jersey on the west, to Breezy Point in the Rockaways in Queens to the east.
The barrier would have 14 gates that would let water and shipping traffic flow normally, but the gates would close in a weather emergency. A similar system is in place in St. Petersburg, Russia. Its designers, with the development firm Ch2M HILL, believe that St. Petersburg and New York City are similar in terrain and length of coastline.
“From an engineering point of view,” said Jonathan Goldstick, one of the primary designers of the St. Petersburg barrier system, who has also studied New York City’s coast line. “It’s certainly feasible, and barriers like this have been done in many parts of the world.”
In St. Petersburg, the outer barrier, which is more than twice as long as that proposed for New York City, successfully kept flood waters out of that city during a winter storm in 2012. The city finished constructing its barrier system in 2010.
Prior to that, St. Petersburg had flooded in some capacity every year since its founding in 1703, according to the barrier builders.
Even though the city rejected a massive permanent barrier, the concept figured in strongly in the mayor’s plan, just on a smaller scale.
“Today, we’re proposing storm barriers at Newtown Creek in Brooklyn,” Mayor Bloomberg said, and he also called for permanent barriers in Coney Island and possibly on the Gowanus Canal as well. He added that “A Jamaica Bay surge barrier would be difficult” to construct, but he said it should happen.
The mayor and the Outer Harbor Gateway designers agreed on one key point — the need to take significant action as soon as possible. According to city statistics, Superstorm Sandy caused $19 billion dollars in damage to New York City alone.
That cost is expected to more than quadruple following storms over the next few decades, as they become increasingly severe.
To handle the emergency, the mayor proposed a variety of solutions, including doubling the height and number of dunes along ocean and inlet coastlines. He also called for setting up temporary barricades in flood prone urban areas, such as the so-called hospital corridor near NYU Langone Medical Center in Midtown, which had to be evacuated when its emergency generators shut down after being flooded during Sandy.
The mayor also called for more homes and other buildings at risk of flooding to be raised, if possible, but also pointed out that many buildings in the city are far too big to be put on columns. Instead, he called for the creation of an exemplary waterside neighborhood that would be built above flood level, just as Battery Park City had been when it was designed and built in the 1960s and 70s.
The mayor dubbed the new, model neighborhood Seaport City. “It’s an ambitious idea, yes, but so was BatteryPark City,” he said.
To achieve any of the mayor’s ambitions to combat climate change will take money. “We estimate the full cost of everything we’re proposing to be $19.5 billion,” Bloomberg said, roughly the same cost of Sandy’s damage.
“Approximately $10 billion of that is covered by a combination of city capital funding that’s already been allocated and federal relief and other monies already designated for the city.
“Another $5 billion should come from the federal government in subsequent rounds of Sandy relief that has been appropriated by Congress, as well as through FEMA risk mitigation funding and other sources.
“As for the rest,” the Mayor said, “we’ll press the federal government to cover as much of the remaining costs as possible.”