Mayor Michael Bloomberg's $20 billion storm-resistance plan for New York City consumes 430 pages.
The list of unanswered questions runs pretty long, too.
They include: who will pay how much, what projects and areas will get priority, and what points of emphasis Bloomberg's successors will push in anticipation of future Hurricane Sandy-type disasters. The mayor's 12-year tenure will end Dec. 31.
Bloomberg last week unveiled his plan, which contains 250 recommendations. They call for levees, floodwalls, surge barriers, bulkheads and other features for such shoreline areas as lower Manhattan, the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, Staten Island and the Newtown Creek between Brooklyn and Queens.
Some proposals are clearly futuristic, notably the Seaport City community on Manhattan's lower East Side, which would feature a residential and commercial mini-city using a multipurpose levee with raised-edge elevations.
"I think some of the ideas are for the next century. Seaport City is a visionary idea, but it's ahead of its time. It's more for the first half of the 22nd century," said Mitchell Moss, a New York University urban policy professor and the director of NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.
City officials expect the federal government to cover most of the resiliency plan, which Moody's Investors Service called a credit positive. Moody's rates the city's general obligation bonds Aa2, while Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's rate them AA.
To others, however, federal funding is a big variable. "It relies too much on the federal government showing up at Christmas," said Jonathan Peters, a College of Staten Island professor whose research work includes capital costs.
Roughly $14 billion would cover capital expenditures and study costs for hardening the city over 10 years. That total rises to $19.5 billion when combined with housing, business and city recovery needs.
According to Bloomberg, $10 billion is already allocated through Sandy-related federal aid and what he called a "robust ongoing" city capital program, and $5 billion could come from additional expected federal funds that he said Congress has already approved.
Bloomberg said the city could cover the remaining $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.
On Sunday night, Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a $70 billion fiscal 2014 budget that included $250 million in resiliency measures.
A panel on climate change that Bloomberg reconvened crafted the proposals. New York City Economic Development Corp. president Seth Pinsky coordinated the effort.
The panel, citing scientific data, painted a dire picture of the effects of climate change in New York. Sea levels, said the report, could rise more quickly than forecast four years ago, possibly by more than two-and-a-half feet by 2055. Two-inch rainfall days could spike from three in the last century to five in the 2050s alone. Also by then, 90-degree-plus days could spike, threatening public health system, the power grid and other infrastructure.
Disaster expert Alan Rubin, a government relations strategist at law firm Cozen O'Connor in New York, recommends creative financing tools.
While at Lehman Brothers' investment banking division, he helped design and underwrite the catastrophic fund for hurricane relief and rebuilding Florida. He earned the moniker "Hurricane Czar" for his work in the Miami area after Hurricane Andrew caused $30 billion of damage to Dade County in 1992.
According to Rubin, catastrophe bonds, infrastructure banks and public-private partnerships helped that region rebuild.
"These mechanisms can offset some of the draconian costs, and make the projects much more acceptable," he said in an interview. "It's important to have a financial plan that doesn't abuse the taxpayers. That's as important as having a plan for seawalls or other types of defensive measures."
New York should engage the private sector, Rubin added. In Miami post-Andrew, a 40-member "We Will Rebuild" committee consisted mostly of business leaders that included homebuilders. Alvah Chapman, publisher of the Miami Herald at the time, chaired the panel.
"Miami-Dade County [government] people were there, but they were working hand-in-glove with the private sector. It was much more effective," Rubin said.
For example, private capital helped pay for a new laboratory that could test whether newly designed windows could withstand winds of up to 150 miles per hour, which Dade County required after Andrew. "We wanted to shoot two-by-fours at that speed. The county could not afford those labs, which about $5 million or $10 million at the time. We had to implement a strategy."
According to Rubin, rebuilding should consider scientific minutiae such as sand movement and the molecular structure of concrete in subway tunnels. "Otherwise, you have the same problems all over again," he said.
"A hurricane is nature's broom. After a hurricane, sand has been displaced. Sand dunes act as seawalls, but they're moveable," Rubin added. "These kinds of things in the resiliency plan - and I like the word resiliency - have to be thought out."
Separately from Bloomberg's plan, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last month approved $59 million to continue Sandy-related repair and safeguard the World Trade Center construction site and Port Authority Trans-Hudson rail system, among its other holdings.
Enhancements will include metal panels at PATH stations, temporary concrete barriers and water-filled Jersey barriers to protect doorways in buildings, and the installation of permanent and mobile pumps. The authority also plans to install a large generator at the LaGuardia Airport pump house to quickly remove water from the airfield. "In addition, the agency continues to evaluate other long-term mitigation measures," an official said.
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is launching its own recovery and resiliency unit. Officials say this will require years of construction and monitoring, of billions of dollars in federal aid. Plans call for protecting station entrances, fan plants, under-river tubes and other components.
"I don't have the cost," MTA chairman and chief executive Thomas Prendergast said last month. "But for the value to reuse it, it's a no-brainer."
The College of Staten Island's Peters favors considering tax increment financing or even payments in lieu of taxes to fund the mayor's project. Peters questioned why the plan does not call for a major barrier at the Narrows, the tidal strait that separates Brooklyn and Staten Island.
"Do you have several protective barriers or a major barrier that can do it all at one fell swoop? You have to deploy with capital dollars but maintain it with an infrastructure fund. You need a long-term funding pool. It's not good on the day of the event to have a flood valve that does not close," he added.
"We don't have a technology gap, it's an application gap. We had very little mitigation, no plan of action. The saddest example was New Jersey Transit moving its trains to low-lying areas. Hundreds of units of rolling stock were lost."
Anthony Sabino, a Mineola, N.Y. attorney and law professor at St. John's University, envisions difficulties from City Hall transition.
"It will be difficult to get some traction on this. Mayor Bloomberg is, to use the common term, a lame-duck mayor. It's wide open as to who the next mayor will be. Priorities can change, whoever gets in."
The courts will also figure into the mix, he added.
"I just see years of exhaustive litigation that will impede implementation, and I don't think that's something the plan factors in," Sabino said. "Every group of every stripe will have something to say. You'll have a confusing potpourri and every group will have something to say. Take the environmental groups alone - some will say it's not enough, some will say it's too much and others will say it's a good idea but some of it isn't workable."
Anthony Figliola, the vice president of Empire Government Strategies in Uniondale, N.Y., said some proposals will simply emerge ahead of others.
"Everyone knows that when people roll out these public policies, you throw in everything but the kitchen sink," he said. "You see what's feasible and where's the political will."
Figliola likes the economic development component of Bloomberg's proposals. "People won't want to develop unless they know their investment is going to be protected."