Bloomberg Proposes $20 Billion NYC Flood Plan After Sandy

By Henry Goldman | June 12, 2013

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for a $20 billion system of flood barriers to protect low-lying areas from storms almost eight months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the region.

In a report released today, the mayor made 250 recommendations, including installing bulkheads and dune systems on beach areas of Staten Island and the Rockaways in Queens, and bolstering building codes to protect hospitals. He cited environmental scientists who predict sea levels rising as much as 31 inches by 2050, accompanied by severe storms and prolonged spells of extreme heat and cold.

Bloomberg last year appointed a task force to assess the city’s vulnerability after Sandy brought a record 14-foot (4.3- meter) storm surge to Lower Manhattan in October. It flooded seven subway tunnels, immersed electrical substations, shut down the financial district and killed power south of 35th Street. All five boroughs bore its brunt in the city of 8 million.

“Hurricane Sandy made it all too clear that, no matter how far we’ve come, we still face real, immediate threats,” Bloomberg said in a speech at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “Much of the work will extend far beyond the next 200 days — but we refuse to pass the responsibility for creating a plan onto the next administration. This is urgent work, and it must begin now.”

Term Ending

The mayor, 71, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is to end his third and final term Dec. 31.

His estimate assumes each proposal is implemented on the suggested timeline. The city can rely on $10 billion in city capital funding and federal aid, and another $5 billion in U.S. disaster relief, the mayor said. Additional federal funding and capital raised through the sale of municipal bonds would be needed to cover the remaining $4.5 billion, the mayor said.

By mid-century, as much as one-quarter of New York’s land area, where 800,000 residents live, will be in a flood plain, the mayor said. The city has about 520 miles of coastline, more than Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco combined, he said.

‘Defining Challenge’

Fifty-three percent of New York’s power plants are in the 100-year flood plain now, and 97 percent will be in the 2050s, the mayor said. Fuel suppliers remain at risk of flooding or power blackouts, and significant gaps in telecommunications regulations have left cable TV, broadband, wireless and wired voice networks exposed, Bloomberg said.

“Make no mistake: This is a defining challenge for our future, and if anyone is up to the task of defending and adapting the city they love, it’s New Yorkers,” Bloomberg said.

While conceding that no program could protect the city against all climate-related disasters, the mayor envisioned a New York much more prepared than the one Sandy hit.

“Instead of colliding with ocean-facing homes, waves rushing toward our city will hit breakwaters and wetlands that will help sap their strength and break their momentum,” he said.

“Waves that do reach our shores will find a strong line of coastal defenses: reinforced dunes and widened beaches, levees, floodwalls and bulkheads and tide gates and surge barriers.”

‘Green Infrastructure’

The mayor also proposed planting more trees and other vegetation on streets and rooftops, and drains to manage rain- runoff — “green infrastructure” — to absorb water or divert it to higher-capacity sewers.

At Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, Director Jason Bordoff issued a statement supporting the mayor and welcoming the opportunity “to partner with him on implementation of these recommendations to make the city more resilient.”

Meteorologists calculate that a storm of Sandy’s severity has a 1.4 percent probability of occurring within 100 years, the city report said.

While Sandy caused $19 billion in economic damage, a similar storm in the 2050s would cost $90 billion in lost property, jobs, infrastructure and government expense, the report states, citing calculations by Swiss Re Ltd., the world’s second-largest reinsurer.

“We have an interest in managing risks our clients face and how those risks can change,” said Megan Linkin, a Swiss Re scientist who studies natural hazards, in an interview. “That’s why we care about climate change and its potential impact.”

Bloomberg’s plan calls for $1.2 billion to be made available for building owners to institute flood-resiliency measures, including elevating or protecting equipment, upgrading foundations and reinforcing exterior walls.

It also proposes levees, floodwalls and other protections along the eastern shore of Staten Island from Fort Wadsworth to Tottenville, which would rise 15 feet to 20 feet to protect neighborhoods devastated by Sandy that have seen coastal flooding from nor’easters for years.

To pay for a study of the project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the mayor said he’s added $50 million to the fiscal 2014 budget currently under consideration by the city council, which would go into effect July 1.

Restoration of beaches requires 1 million cubic yards of sand to be added at Coney Island; 3.6 million cubic yards at Rockaway Peninsula; and similar measures at damaged shore line of Staten Island, the mayor said.

Turning Tide

Bulkheads of stone or concrete to hold shorelines in place and protect against rising sea levels and erosion would be built throughout the city, including in west Midtown in Manhattan; the Rockaway Peninsula, Broad Channel and Howard Beach in Queens; Greenpoint in Brooklyn; the North Shore in Staten Island; and West and Locust Point in the Bronx. The city would also repair bulkheads on the Belt Parkway along the south shore of Brooklyn and Queens, which failed during Hurricane Sandy, the mayor said.

Billions more would be spent on such protections as a system of floodwalls and levees adaptable for recreation and waterfront transportation, the mayor said. Similar devices could be installed near Hunts Point in the Bronx, the site of the city’s largest food-distribution center; the East River Drive, where the United Nations sits; and near hospitals on the city’s east side, where Sandy’s floods forced patient evacuations and facility shut-downs.

“A floodwall doesn’t have to be just a wall, it can be part of an elevated park or boardwalk, and still block flood waters,” the mayor said.

The city’s building code must require low-lying hospitals, nursing and adult-care homes to make sure electrical equipment, emergency power systems and water pumps are flood-proof by 2030, the mayor said.

The mayor’s task force predicted city temperatures could reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius), 57 days a year by mid- century, up from 18 days a year now, and equal to the weather now experienced in Birmingham, Alabama, 960 miles to the south.

(With assistance from Freeman Klopott in Albany, New York. Editors: Mark Schoifet, William Glasgall)

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