Almost three million New Yorkers currently live in a Hurricane Evacuation Zone. Among those living in “Zone 1,” the areas of the city most vulnerable to coastal flooding, are the 6,500 residents of Red Hook Houses, Brooklyn’s largest public housing complex.
Last week, Mayor de Blasio and other city officials traveled to Red Hook to describe measures the City is taking to prepare for the next major coastal storm. Eighty-four percent of hurricanes form between August and October, officials said.
“It was deeply troubling to see how hard hit this neighborhood was,” said the Mayor. “Even without all the preparation that people deserve, people improvised in an extraordinary manner…We want to be ready for the next time.”
After Sandy, several thousand residents of Red Hook Houses remained without electricity, and heat and hot water for almost two weeks. The development’s mechanical systems, which were located in building basements, were destroyed by flooding.
The lack of power and heat became particularly dangerous as temperatures dropped below freezing. Many older and disabled residents were unable to leave their apartments to secure food and medical assistance because building elevators were not operating.
As part of its Coastal Storm Plan, the City says it has the capacity to shelter up to 600,000 people through a system of 64 evacuation centers and more than 450 hurricane shelters, including special medical needs shelters. The City also maintains an emergency stockpile of essential supplies and a database of several-thousand City employees and volunteers who would be called upon to manage evacuation centers and emergency shelters.
First Steps: Rebuilding Beaches
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the Bloomberg administration developed a rebuilding and climate resiliency plan which focused on five geographic areas: the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront, the East and South Shores of Staten Island, South Queens, Southern Brooklyn, and Southern Manhattan.
The de Blasio administration says it is furthering those efforts to protect everything from the city’s fuel supply to its health care facilities to New York’s 500+ miles of coastline in the face of rising sea levels and storm surges.
In his visit to Red Hook, Mayor de Blasio highlighted progress made on replenishing beaches in some of the city’s most vulnerable areas:
- In Brooklyn, 600,000 cubic yards of new sand put in place to protect Coney Island;
- On Staten Island, 26,000 linear feet of dunes rebuilt between South Beach and Conference House Park; and
- In Queens, 2.5 million cubic yards of sand in place to protect the Rockaways, with another half-million cubic yards coming, said the Mayor.
Support for beach replenishment has come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Re-thinking and Fortifying the Coastline
In Manhattan, the City plans to construct a “protective system” around the lower part of the island, “10 continuous miles of low-lying geography,” stretching from West 57th street south to the Battery and up to East 42th street.
The first segment of the “Big U” proposal, which was the winning entry in the Rebuild by Design competition sponsored by President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, is a “berm” which will elevate and expand the riverfront parkland adjacent to the Lower East Side.
The berm will help to re-connect the Lower East Side to the East River, and “protect one of our biggest concentrations of public housing and affordable housing,” said the Mayor. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded $335 million for the overall Big U proposal.
HUD also awarded $20 million for flood protection projects at Hunts Point in the Bronx, where the Mayor noted, “our food supply is centered.”
And HUD is supplying $60 million to create a “necklace of living breakwaters” off the Staten Island coast to buffer against wave damage, flooding and erosion. The idea, said the Mayor, is to restore “what mother nature had in place to protect against storms.”
Protecting Critical Buildings & Infrastructure
The Mayor noted that new laws have been enacted to require flood-resistant construction for New York City healthcare facilities, and to require emergency plans for residential and commercial buildings.
He said that the City has also adopted new policies to protect critical infrastructure, such as sewage treatment plants and pumping stations, from future storm surge and sea level rise.
De Blasio referenced Red Hook’s ongoing vulnerability to rising sea levels. “We’re working with the State of New York to develop a comprehensive flood protection system for Red Hook, something this neighborhood needs,” he declared.
In the meantime, residents of the Red Hook Houses are still relying on temporary boilers. The New York City Housing Authority plans to replace them with elevated, more efficient boilers and an upgraded heat distribution system, said NYCHA General Manager Cecil House, who spoke after the Mayor.
The Mayor observed that protecting New York City from the impacts of climate change also means examining its underlying causes, and New York City’s role in the global climate crisis.
“We’re committed to addressing the root causes of global warming. And we’ll be saying a lot more about that in the next few weeks as we lead up to the United Nations global summit on climate change in September,” the Mayor added.