Hoboken Residents Oppose Waterfront Wall to Prevent Flooding

By Brenda Flanagan

“Why are we talking about a wall in the Hudson River, blocking one of the biggest values of Hoboken, which is its waterfront? We shouldn’t even be talking about that,” said Evan Fensterstock.

The tide of public opinion ran strongly against a flood-control wall along Hoboken’s iconic waterfront, as an overflow crowd jammed the Wallace School gym to comment on three proposals to keep out storm surges like the one Sandy sent roaring into the city three years ago. Alternative One is the waterfront wall, which offers the best protection, yet is embraced by few.

“So, Alternative One is a non-starter,” Fensterstock said.

“I’m glad we can agree Alternative One is a complete disaster. It should be completely scratched,” said Bray Ridenour.

The plans would also block waves from invading Weehawken, but Mayor Richard Turner torpedoed Alternative One, direct hit.

“The experts say we shouldn’t say this. Option One is dead on arrival. There’s not enough money to do it, it’s too high, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not going to happen in Weehawken, and I know Mayor [Dawn] Zimmer — she may not be able to say it tonight — but it’s not going to happen in Hoboken,” he said.

“I share the community’s concerns about the waterfront alignment. It’s not something that I would support, but as I mentioned, it’s part of the legal process. We need to just explore it,” Zimmer said.

That legal process is the unbreakable string attached to a $230 million federal grant for a winning design that offers several options to keep the ocean out of Hoboken. Engineers and architects explained to residents how the other alternatives work. Alt Two’s design moves the flood resistance barrier inland — north, along 15th Street to Washington Street, a commercial thoroughfare. Alt Three’s wall also runs inland, using a private alleyway to avoid 15th Street, merging onto Washington Street. Both include southern wall options along Observer Highway. But residents resented walls anywhere.

“I think what you’ve done today is kind of a disservice to us, because we have no choice going forward. It’s already been decided. We’re going to get a wall down Washington Street somehow, either down the alleyway or on 15th Street,” said Mustafa Ozturk.

“We do not arrive at the decision to use a wall lightly,” Mike Sears said.

Engineers noted, walls can be designed with eye appeal, but bottom line — only a wall stops a storm surge.

“It’s essentially an extension of the Atlantic Ocean that’s pushing its way into the city. There is no tank or basin large enough to even come close to handling that kind of water or making a difference in the elevation that results from that type of flooding,” Sears said.

As this planning process moves forward, engineers will design 3D models to help residents visualize what the three alternatives really look like. But with comments like, “DOA” and “non-starter”, it’s obvious the ocean front wall remains deeply unpopular.