New York tweaks to East Side flood project reflect local resilience impetus

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In the latest example of cities undertaking their own climate resilience initiatives, New York has tweaked its East Side coastal resilience project in lower Manhattan.

The city, said Mayor Bill de Blasio, will pursue an alternative design to enable implementation of flood protection nearly one year earlier. The new design will raise the entire East River Park, with the floodwall at the water’s edge integrated at the bulkhead and esplanade that does not obstruct water views.

The move, which de Blasio announced during last week's NYC Climate Week, comes two weeks after Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas. Extreme weather also included four tornadoes that touched down this week in metropolitan New York and Connecticut.

“The infrastructure needs for municipalities, whether it’s water or energy or anything else … they’re significant. They’re substantial,” Michael Ferguson, director of sustainable finance for S&P Global Ratings, said at a Climate Week event in midtown Manhattan.

“They’re certainly growing and obviously the needs may be increasingly pushed down to the state and local levels,” Ferguson said. “Certainly we are looking at that in a lot more detail.”

The overall East Side project, for which the city has already allocated $760 million, seeks to establish flood protection 2.4 miles from Montgomery Street north to East 25th Street. The amount includes funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provided $338 million in Community Development Block Grant disaster recovery funds.

The updated plan will trim about six months off the projected timeline and provide flood protections for residents nearly one full year sooner. The move follows a value engineering study performed earlier this year and a review by experts nationwide.

Under the accelerated schedule, construction would begin in spring 2020 and flood protection would take effect by summer 2023. The city will present the new approach to local elected officials, the Community Board and other neighborhood stakeholders at meetings this fall.

“It pays to be prepared. We cannot rely on the federal government to help us prepare, or to rescue us when a devastating storm strikes,” said storm financing expert Alan Rubin, a principal at Blank Rome LLP.

The state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city’s subways, buses, two commuter rail lines and several intraborough bridges and tunnels, has had a dedicated resilience division since Hurricane Sandy struck on Oct. 29, 2012.

Mechanisms include closing grids, protecting station entrances, enhanced tunnel repair, electrical installation protection and work on water-prone yards at Brooklyn’s Coney Island and on Staten Island.

“These initiatives have been unfolding in the years since Sandy,” said MTA board Vice Chairman Fernando Ferrer.

Still, rainfall leaking into some stations two weeks ago as the remnants of Florence fell on the region shows the authority still has work to do, said Andy Byford, president of the MTA’s New York City Transit division.

“There’s still a bit more to do with what you might call run-of-the-mill events like very heavy downpours. I did see the imagery the other day of water going into the stations,” Byford told reporters after the Sept. 26 board meeting.

“We have been going around sealing leaks on stations. But don’t forget, sometimes the water is because the drains might be blocked at street level or the curb needs to be elevated, and if that water builds up and goes over the curb and goes onto the sidewalk, it is going to cascade into the station.”

Byford said the MTA is working with the city’s Department of Transportation on curb-and-grid mitigation.

The MTA’s Long Island Rail Road is taking steps to winterize its system, according to LIRR President Phillip Eng.

LIRR, he said, is preparing 60 snow-switch covers for installation, has put in third-rail heaters, and has installed heated threshold plates on 60% of its fleet.

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Infrastructure Bill de Blasio City of New York, NY S&P New York