As you depart Pier 62 aboard the Manhattan II, you can look for signs of a more resilient shoreline in the five years since Sandy battered the region. That was Oct. 29, 2012 when Sandy’s storm surge, amplified by spring high tides, swamped coastal cities.
“Sandy was a killer storm. People died in Sandy. Sandy was a storm that destroyed infrastructure in this metro area on a scale never seen before,” said President of the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure Bill Golden.
The coastal resiliency storm surge barrier boat tour brought on board scientists and engineers to explore how towns and agencies have responded to the threat of future storms, think Sandy 2.0. The tour cruised past Hoboken and its vulnerable waterfront.
Urban planner Carter Craft explained Hoboken’s one of the few municipalities planning permanent perimeter barriers along its shoreline as a very local defense to block and divert floodwater. But even with a $230 million federal grant, the final design’s two years away and nothing’s built.
“We’re basically at the 30 percent design mark. We have an alignment that’s probably 8,000 linear feet of flood defense,” said Craft.
The Port Authority’s also planning flood defenses with a list of 66 projects that includes barriers around individual PATH entrances and elevators.
“Many of you may have seen the picture of flooding Exchange Place where water’s pouring through the elevator? We have projects that are designed to mitigate that in the future,” said Joe Simenic, storm mitigation and resilience program director at the Port Authority.
Here’s the dilemma: some experts fear that kind of mitigation — walls and drains — while well-intentioned, is simply too local and insufficient.
“The entire area needs a regional barrier system to protect it. Perimeter systems simply are not working to do that,” said Golden.
The gospel preached during this cruise: build surge barriers as protection outside of the Verrazano Narrows to guard against storm surge.
The six-mile-long Outer Harbor Gateway would stretch from Sandy Hook to Far Rockaway and would be supplemented by smaller barriers. It’s designed to remain open most of the time letting tides and maritime traffic flow freely. But, the gate would close in the face of impending storm surges.
“To keep back those occasional, but ever-increasing-in-danger storm surges associated with hurricanes and winter nor’easter,” said Chair and Founder of the NY NJ Metro Storm Surge Working Group Malcolm Bowman.
Proponents, including the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure admit that a surge gateway would be expensive — there’s no price tag. But, they noted, towns behind the gate could spend less on perimeter walls, and develop closer to the waterfront. They predicted an economy could thrive with a reduced threat of catastrophic storm impacts and urged officials to consider the proposal.