Red Hook, Brooklyn, one of the city’s neighborhoods most vulnerable to climate change, is going to receive some badly needed protection from rising sea levels. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio announced a Request for Proposals this week for the study and design of an integrated flood protection system for the waterfront community.

Red Hook’s flood protection system, which the State has said will be “the first of its kind in the nation,” is supposed to make the neighborhood “more resilient and better protected from future storms.”

Rather than constructing one large barrier, the City and State plan to utilize a combination of elements, such as a natural greenway, deployable flood walls, elevated streets, resilient building retrofits and redevelopment, park retrofits, and improvements to drainage and pumping facilities to protect the neighborhood over the “long-term.”

Once complete, the coastal protection system will encompass 370 acres of land and be able to safeguard “all [New York City Housing Authority] Red Hook Houses and other key buildings and infrastructure in the 100-year floodplain,” the City said. Red Hook Houses is the largest public housing complex in Brooklyn and home to over half of the neighborhood’s 14,000 residents.

The $200 million project is receiving an initial $100 million investment from the City and State combined. It is part of New York State’s $17 billion climate resilience strategy, “Reimagining New York for a New Reality.” It is also one of the 257 initiatives in the City’s climate resilience plan.

The de Blasio administration’s response to climate change has four core elements: strengthen coastal defenses, upgrade buildings, protect infrastructure and critical services, and make homes, businesses, and neighborhoods “safer and more vibrant.”

No “High Ground”

Red Hook, low-lying and bounded by water on three sides, sits below the base flood elevations currently identified by FEMA. There is virtually no “high ground.” According to the City, much of Red Hook experienced three to six feet of flooding during Superstorm Sandy.

Sections of the Red Hook Houses were without heat, hot water and electricity for days, and in some cases, weeks after Sandy. The mechanical systems for the complex, which had been located below sea level, were crippled by Sandy’s storm surge.

Sufficient Funding to Build the Project?

Red Hook’s flood protection system, to be built in phases, will most likely connect with the Brooklyn Greenway, a landscaped route along the waterfront. The Greenway will eventually stretch 14 miles, from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge.

A design competition for the project was supposed to be held this year, with a project completion date scheduled for 2016, according to the City’s resiliency plan. That timetable was delayed because of funding issues, said a spokeswoman for the City.

The City and State say they have received some initial FEMA Hazard Mitigation funding -“to be drawn down from the $100 million”- to complete the project’s feasibility and design analysis.

The City has not yet answered our question regarding whether it has funding to actually construct the flood protection system.

The City has other plans to prepare the Brooklyn waterfront for climate change. A longer-term project, according to resiliency planners, is to build a storm-surge barrier in the nearby Gowanus Canal. That barrier will protect a larger area, including Red Hook and Gowanus.