While many municipal market observers are still sifting through Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s far-reaching plan to harden New York City from future storms such as Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg’s vision and the $20 billion cost of the plan stand out to some of them.
“It’s a hefty price tag. It’s expensive to say the least. And $20 billion may not be the full amount,” said Anthony Figliola, vice president of Empire Government Strategies in Uniondale, N.Y. “When they throw these numbers out, let’s be honest, cost overruns come later.
“But people have to realize that nobody wants their basement flooded and no one wants the power transformer grid to blow. And nobody expected all that water flowing into lower Manhattan.”
Bloomberg, speaking at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Duggal Greenhouse on Tuesday, unveiled a long-awaited initiative -- contained in a 430-page document -- that proposes floodwalls, levees, surge barriers, bulkheads and other fortifications for such water-exposed areas as the lower Manhattan financial district, Staten Island, the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens and the Newtown Creek between Brooklyn and Queens.
Mitchell Moss, an urban policy professor at New York University and the director of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, praised Bloomberg for crafting a blueprint that goes beyond mere hurricane protection.
Economic development initiatives include a futuristic “Seaport City” on the lower East Side. Seaport City, modeled after Battery Park City, would feature a multi-purpose levee with raised-edge elevations. Its intention is to protect the East River shoreline south of the Brooklyn Bridge and create a new area for residential and commercial development.
“It’s a pro-development report. It’s about sustainable development. This is not about hiding in our caves and retreating from the hurricane,” said Moss.
“This is a historic document that will define the parameters for future growth. It sets the agenda for the next 30 years,” he added. “The scope of the work was amazing. You see in the report an enormous amount of intelligence.”
The plan, compiled by a panel on climate change overseen by New York City Economic Development Corp. president Seth Pinsky, contained 250 recommendations. Bloomberg, a 12-year mayor who will leave office at the end of the year, reconvened the panel shortly after Hurricane Sandy devastated the region on Oct. 29. The panel last issued a report in 2009.
The report painted a dire picture on the effects of climate change by the 2050s. It said that sea levels could rise by more than two-and-a-half feet, the number of days with more than two inches of rainfall could spike from three in the last century to five, and the city could have three times as many days with temperatures in the 90s.
Also by then, a storm similar to Sandy could cost upwards of five times the estimated $19 billion worth of damage and lost economic activity sustained last fall.
“If we do nothing more, 40 miles of our waterfront could see flooding on a regular basis just during normal high tides. We don’t need a storm for that,” Bloomberg said. “Think about what that means, just in financial terms.”
Most of the spending – about $14 billion – would cover fortifying over a 10-year period. Other recovery and resiliency uses involve public housing, businesses and city agencies.
According to Bloomberg, the city can rely on $10 billion already allocated through city capital funding and federal relief, as well as $5 billion from additional expected federal funds that he said Congress has already approved.
The mayor said the city could cover the remaining gap of roughly $5 billion through several means, including additional appropriations through the $51 billion federal aid package known as “Sandy supplemental,” the second of two storm-related bills that President Obama signed; $2 billion in undelivered tax benefits from Congress after Sept. 11 for resiliency use; and allocating a further $1 billion in city capital spending.
“I’m sure they’ll be looking for every piece of loose change under the couch,” said Figliola.
A new mayor would carry the ball for these projects after Jan. 1.
“Bloomberg’s made life easier for the next mayor. He or she just has to carry out the playbook,” Moss said. “It doesn’t matter who is elected in 2013, 2017 or 2021. The next mayor doesn’t have to do anything. Bloomberg has done all the work. All the candidates should be writing thank-you notes saying ‘thank you, Michael Bloomberg.’ ”
City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu, though a frequent critic of Bloomberg, praised him on Wednesday. “We applaud the mayor for laying out this comprehensive report,” he said. “Climate change poses serious risks to our city and, as the report pointed out, to our old building stock.”
The city, when assessing building damage after Sandy, found that small, light buildings built before 1961, when New York last updated its building codes, represented 18% of buildings in the Sandy inundation zone, but totaled 73% of structures destroyed or structurally compromised.
Liu said his proposal for “green apple” environmental bonds could help finance the $1.2 billion in resiliency upgrades to old building stock proposed in the report.