Hoboken finalizes flood plans at its two weakest points

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Six years after Sandy, an ambitious plan is in place that would protect to protect Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken neighborhoods from again being inundated by storm surges.

Hoboken’s northern flood wall will start at Weehawken Cove. When Sandy surged into the vulnerable city six years ago — causing $100 million worth of damage — it was one of two places it breached the waterfront so engineers designed an elevated, park-like barrier. A more conventional flood wall will then follow Garden Street through an alley to Washington, and will feature retractable barriers. Some residents wonder about how the flood wall will change the character of the city.

“I think it’s hard to blend in a wall that’s going to go from up here all the way downtown. That’s something that, I think they’ll have to hire a really good architects or designers to try and design,” said Hoboken resident Annie Pak-Brenner.

“What is it going to look like? Is it going to be a big, metal thing?” asked Weehawken resident Dana Stephenson.

“On Washington Street, because of the natural topography, the wall will be as low as three feet,” said Rebuild by Design Project Manager, Allen Kratz. “It will be integrated with benches and seating, that’s the plan to make it be part of normal, everyday life, as well as something that protects us during storm surge conditions and extreme weather events.”

The innovative Rebuild By Design project won a $230 million federal grant to defend Hoboken against floods. Two-thirds of the city lies in FEMA’s flood zone. After a couple years of community input and some serious disagreements, city, state and federal officials settled on final designs last week. It’s a scaled-back compromise.

“We want to have flood protection, but we want it done in a way that blends seamlessly into the urban landscape,” said Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla. “You might not even realize that the park bench that you’re sitting on is designed in a way to actually protect against a 100 year storm.”

Bhalla says the city’s southern flood wall, called the “middle ground” design, will integrate a plan to develop 2.3 million square feet of commercial and residential space along Observer Highway but still protect NJ Transit’s rail yard near the train station.

“The Hoboken Terminal is the nucleus of mass transit infrastructure in New Jersey — where you have no less than five forms of mass transit infrastructure,” Bhalla said. “The opportunities for economic development at that location are hugely enormous and beneficial to New Jersey.”

The project includes other defenses, like parks to absorb floodwater, retention basins to store it and sewage infrastructure to discharge it. But it’s the walls that people will notice. Residents will get to comment again in February.

“Safety first. I mean, you’ll have your home afterwards. The view can always be repaired,” said Hoboken resident Deei Laird.

Construction’s scheduled to start by the end of next year. The project must be completed by the end of Sept. 2022 — the federal deadline that’s directly connected to the funding.

Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim, III.