Tuesday, we ran a piece describing Mayor de Blasio’s visit to Staten Island, the New York City borough which suffered the most devastating loss of life during Superstorm Sandy.
It’s worth reiterating that Staten Island’s new borough president, James Oddo, is deeply concerned about future storms and the island’s vulnerability to them, especially along the south and eastern shores. And the borough president is anxious to proceed with re-thinking the design of some of the island’s coastal communities while there is still time.
The concern expressed by the Mayor about communities recovering from Sandy is no doubt real. But he is beginning to show what seems like a surprising lack of urgency, especially given what New York City is facing.
Almost two months into de Blasio’s tenure as mayor, the team that will coordinate both the city’s rebuilding and climate change planning efforts has not been finalized.
A Looming Threat
As far as we know, there is still no leadership structure in place for tackling what some of the city’s own scientists have said is the biggest threat to New York City’s existence.
…there is still no leadership structure in place for tackling what some of the city’s own scientists have said is the biggest threat to New York City’s existence
Consider this: projections released by the New York City Panel on Climate Change in 2013 stated that by the 2050’s, sea level in the area is projected to rise 11 to 24 inches (middle range) and 31 inches (high estimate). Sections of Staten Island are already below sea-level now.
Every inch of sea level rise means a greater possibility of devastating storm surges striking New Dorp Beach, the Rockaways or Red Hook.
The Mayor has indicated that he agrees with much of what was proposed by former Mayor Bloomberg’s post-Sandy resiliency plan. But we don’t know what of the over 250 possible measures he supports and what he does not.
For instance, the plan proposes the construction of an enormous residential and commercial development on the East Side of Lower Manhattan -Seaport City- that would also serve as a “protective barrier” to sea level rise.
The local community board that represents the area has raised numerous questions about the project and says the city should focus first on protecting the community’s most vulnerable residents, especially those living in public housing.
What does the Mayor think about Seaport City? We know that he met with the Real Estate Board of New York on February 19th, but, as Capital New York reporter Dana Rubinstein noted, that meeting was closed to the media. REBNY’s members would almost certainly have opinions about the project.
What’s the Plan?
We also know that the Mayor wants to build on PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s multi-pronged sustainability plan, which was created to help the city plan for a million new residents by 2030. Like the SIRR plan, PlaNYC is a gargantuan document. It advocates, for instance, the city’s increased use of natural gas as a power source.
De Blasio has expressed major reservations about the extraction process for natural gas. And the New York Times reported recently on a new study showing methane leakage is a larger problem than originally thought.
It may very well be that natural gas’ benefits still outweigh the risks, but methane’s impact on the climate is a relevant question right now for a coastal city facing the dual challenge of locating sustainable energy sources and confronting rising sea levels.
In short, time is of the essence. We need to clarify how exactly we are rebuilding from Sandy, and what our priorities are as we confront climate change.