Superstorm Sandy may turn out to be the ultimate urban planner. Rushing in on screaming winds under a full moon, Sandy in 2012 introduced New Yorkers to the grim notion that 14-foot tidal surges could become a constant threat to lives and property in an age of global warming.
Now, not quite 20 months later, federal, state and local officials have unveiled a strong blueprint for keeping three key sections of the city safe when new storms strike.
The plans call for construction of three major ramparts against storm tides — a landscaped berm to keep the East River out of the Lower East Side, reefs and breakwaters to prevent New York harbor from wrecking Staten Island’s south shore once again, and a levee to stop the Bronx River from invading Hunts Point.
These battlements need to be built as soon as possible.
Though scientists don’t think the hurricane season that began on June 1 will be especially fierce, the future is not expected to be so kind. So while community input is crucial, so is speed. We hope the plans aren’t blown off-course by endless flurries of NIMBYism.
All told, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has agreed to allocate:
$335 million to the city to help build a berm paralleling the East River from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street on the Lower East Side. Situated next to East River Park, the barrier would protect the vital 14th Street Con Edison plant and shield several major public housing complexes.
$60 million to the state for a necklace of breakwaters to dissipate waves off Staten Island. The project will also revive habitats for lobsters, shellfish and other marine life.
$20 million to the city for a levee in the South Bronx that would protect the distribution center for roughly 60 percent of New York’s food supply while helping restore the ecology of the Bronx River.
This money is just a start. The city must find other cash to keep the work going. Meanwhile, separate plans are underway for lower Manhattan and hundreds of other projects around the city. The next time nature takes its course, we have to be ready.