Group Urges U.S. to Get Serious About Hurricane Preparations

New York City

Storm Barrier

The Rockaway Peninsula in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

June 22, 2017

Summer’s officially here, and so is hurricane season. With a bumper crop of tropical storms expected this season, a group of scientists, planners and property owners is urging the U.S. government to get busy on a proposed $30 billion storm-surge barrier that would protect New York City from the next Hurricane Sandy.

“The danger is increasing as the sea level rises,” the group’s Malcolm Bowman, an oceanographer at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, tells Crain’s. Bowman predicted a monster storm in 2005 – seven years before Sandy wreaked $69 billion of devastation on the Eastern Seaboard, the second-worst storm in U.S. history behind Hurricane Katrina. “It won’t take a monster storm like Sandy to devastate the region.”

Bowman’s group is pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up its evaluation of a five-mile retractable storm-surge barrier running from the Rockaways to New Jersey’s Sandy Hook, similar to barriers now in Louisiana and Europe. That, and another smaller structure at the western edge of Long Island Sound, could protect about 800 miles of shoreline from Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, to the Bronx, Bowman says.

Now that President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, the feeling in New York and other seaside cities seems to be that it’s every man for himself. This has resulted in ingenious – though isolated – acts of preparation. One East Village co-op has purchased storm barriers and is building a back-up cogen electricity generator on a garage roof. Another has removed its Hurricane Sandy-ravaged boiler from the basement and installed a new boiler on the building’s roof. Haven Plaza in the East Village has secured a $10 million federal block grant to erect waterproof, above-ground backup generators, boilers, pumps and other infrastructure. 

Some scoff at such efforts. “These piecemeal fixes buy little more than peace of mind,” says Michael Braito, chief engineer at Chelsea Piers, a recreational facility that sits atop the Hudson River. “It’s like a boat with 100 holes and we’ve patched half of them and we’re going to sink. They need to think bigger.”

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