Even after being downgraded to a tropical depression, Harvey continues to wreak havoc.
Nearly 30 inches of rain fell in 24 hours late this week in Port Arthur, Tex. Nearly 700 Marines have been deployed to Houston and its surrounding areas to aid our friends, families, and fellow Americans that are still under water. We mourn the loss of at least 31 of those souls.
In a cruel twist of irony, literally at the same time, the Trump administration is considering its approval of the latest federal report on climate change, a collaborative effort among scientists from 13 federal agencies.
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the New York area highlighted the importance of precautionary protective construction for lower Manhattan’s vulnerable shorefront.
In 2015, in connection with the federal government’s “Rebuild by Design” competition, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded New York City $335 million (the “HUD Grant”) to fund an ambitious project called the “Big U”: a flood protection construction project to create a pedestrian-accessible area around the southern tip of Manhattan (including the east and west sides) that would serve as a park and would militate against storm surges.
In addition, New York City was awarded an additional $176 million in a National Disaster Resilience Competition, bringing the HUD total to $511 billion.
The question is whether the people comprising New York City’s relevant governing bodies currently possess the necessary focus and determination to make sure that we use the award before we lose it. The HUD funding could be clawed back if not expended within the next two years.
If New York City does not shift out of reactive mode (of course, still continuing clean up, reconstruction, and multiple forms of relief) at least in some part, and dedicate resources to proactive mode — construction of water barriers and other protective structures, construction of emergency shelters, construction of storm gates and flood walls (“building”) and emergency personnel preparedness and contingency planning (“planning”) — the statistics point to New Yorkers soon suffering Sandy-level losses all over again.
Globally, sea level is projected to rise between .18 and .59 meters per year. According to some studies, New York City is among the most vulnerable coastal cities in the world. Other estimates suggest that by 2050, Sandy-level storms could flood at least 25% of New York City.
The East River Greenway project, championed by Council Members Garodnick (4) and Kallos (5), toward which the city has committed $100 million, provides not only parkland and esplanades for residents to enjoy, but also much needed storm protection.
We need to be sure that the city holds true to its promise to begin construction on this segment, as promised, in 2019 with completion in 2022. The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR) extends along the East River waterfront up to 23rd St. Ideally, law and policy makers (particularly if the right ones are elected to city government positions in November) will in the near future work to ensure that the waterfront north of 23rd St. also is protected, by dedicating resources to existing initiatives like the East River Greenway effort, and by pioneering new ones.
It is not only important to make sure that the proper physical fortifications are put in place to keep our waterfronts safe (building) but also important to make sure that residents in waterfront neighborhoods know what to do when the next Sandy hits (planning), and have emergency shelters into which they can retreat when it becomes imperative to do so — building and planning.
New York’s Department of Emergency Management must actively work to provide New Yorkers with the necessary information and tools to respond to future natural disaster-level storms.
As a resident proud to live along one of New York City’s 525 miles of coastline, I have never received so much as one communication from the city as to an evacuation protocol in the event of rising tides.
We need education to encourage or even require retail businesses to feature displays highlighting relevant evacuation zones, which necessarily would increase public awareness of this issue. Preparation guidance through community boards or public school assemblies would be equally effective.
The City Council, the Mayor’s office, the community, as well as the federal government must work together to ensure the protection of our city, while simultaneously giving its people a place where they can cherish the natural beauty our city has to offer.
Let’s get to work.
Rachel Honig is a Democratic Candidate for the City Council seat in District 4, being vacated by Dan Garodnick. She knows first-hand the devastation wrought by natural disasters, having lost a family home to Superstorm Sandy in 2012.