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Hoboken Mayor Announces Ambitious Anti-Flooding Plan

2-18-13

By David Cruz
NJ Today

The thing that makes Hoboken so desirable — its proximity to the water — is the very thing that makes living here a real crap shoot sometimes.

Today’s a good example of a picture-perfect day in Hoboken, bright sunshine and clear skies. The river is mostly calm. It’s a great spot to take a jog or a stroll. But late last year, Hobokenites got a taste of the river’s dark side.

Sandy smashed into Hoboken with high winds and a storm surge that flooded almost 80 percent of the city. Residents in high rises and row houses were stranded without power, water or food. The National Guard was called in and the city became the urban face of Sandy’s fury.

“At that time, you know, I was just concerned with keeping our community safe, and making sure that everyone was OK,” recalled Mayor Dawn Zimmer this week.

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Once the situation in the city was stabilized, the Zimmer administration began to work on ways to avoid this from happening again when the next Sandy strikes. At her recent state of the city address, she began to outline some of that plan.

“As an urban community, we cannot raise our buildings up on pilings,” she told an audience at Stevens Institute of Technology. “We cannot build sand dunes to protect our city. We need a better solution.”

The proposal that drew the most attention from the speech was a plan to have the federal government pay for the building of permanent walls in the north and south of the city, where the storm surge came in and settled in the low-lying neighborhoods of the west side.

“The big one that we also want to continue to work on is buying more park land and then potentially having a large detention system underneath there,” she said, “so everything that we can do to hold that water back from going into the system will help to alleviate the flooding.”

In theory, it sounds good, but how feasible is a plan like this? Jon Miller is a professor of coastal engineering at Stevens Institute’s Davidson Laboratory, where they test just about everything that has to do with the river’s impact.

“The idea is not to rely simply on one wall for protection,” said Miller. “The more things that you can do to kind of reduce the impact of flooding to either rain or sea level rise or storm surge, the better.”

Zimmer says you can invest now, or you can pay after the next storm, or the one after that.

“I’m trying to advocate something that will truly protect the city because the challenge is, we just can’t financially survive this year after year,” said Miller. “People are losing their lives’ savings paying for the repairs each year.”

Hoboken could prove to be a test case: how will northeast cities react to and plan for those hundred year storms, which now seem to be coming with more disastrous regularity.