NEW YORK (PIX11) — With two hurricanes in less than two weeks — Fiona and Ian — affecting the eastern U.S., the situation is a reminder of how vulnerable our region is to flooding and other storm damage. It’s also why a new, comprehensive plan to protect New York Harbor from the effects of storms has been introduced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The detailed proposal has a $52 billion price tag and would combine a variety of coastline protection systems, both manmade and natural, to guard against the most devastating effects of a storm, according to Corps of Engineers planners.
Despite the cost, the plan is getting some favorable, if qualified, early reviews from some entities that have been critical of a previous coastal resiliency proposal, whose cost was far higher.
The new plan is 567 pages long, but its main message is that the construction of a series of mechanical sea walls, earthen barriers, parks, marshes, and other wetlands in areas surrounding New York Harbor in New Jersey and New York is needed, as soon as possible.
The flood protection system would be designed to stop, or at least prevent, water from inundating areas that flooded during Superstorm Sandy 10 years ago, as well as areas that will be more prone to flooding with sea levels expected to rise by as much as six feet by the end of the century.
Cortney Worrall is the president and CEO of the Waterfront Alliance, a consortium of some 1,100 organizations that are connected to issues of coastal resiliency. She said, in an interview, that the use of multiple flood protection systems was good policy.
“Those individualized solutions,” she said, “really provide a whole host of options to protect ourselves over time.”
Her organization’s approval, she said, was in part because the new plan’s focus is very different from one proposed by the Corps of Engineers six years ago. Its centerpiece was a flood barrier wall that extended across the entrance to New York Harbor, from the northern points of the Jersey Shore to New York’s barrier islands.
The earlier plan’s price tag was more than twice that of the current plan. The old plan was shelved in 2020.
The new plan could see construction begin eight years from now if it passes a series of milestones.
Rob Freudenberg, the vice president of energy and environment issues at the Regional Plan Association, a regional environmental resiliency group, pointed out the hurdles ahead, but also said that the fact that the Corps of Engineers has gotten this far in the project could be a good sign.
“Once it meets the public’s approval,” Freudenberg said in an interview, “then it’s up to congress to approve the funding for it, and then the states to match their share as well. So there’s a chance that this could go through.”
Specifically, the federal government would pay for 65 percent of the cost of the project. State and local governments would have to pay the remainder.
Worrall, from the Waterfront Alliance, said that the plan was a strong antidote to any fears that the climate has changed so much already that it’s not possible to protect our region from its effects.
“It’s not too late,” she said, “and this report is a really good example of the path forward.”
“There are answers,” she continued. “We just need to put the political will, the funding, and the mechanisms behind them to make them move forward.”
If it’s approved and fully funded, the project would be completed by 2044, according to the Corps of Engineers.