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Levees, Removable Walls Proposed to Protect NYC

June 11, 2013

By Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press

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NEW YORK - Giant removable floodwalls would be erected around lower Manhattan, and levees, gates and other defenses would be built elsewhere around the city under a nearly $20 billion plan proposed Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to protect New York from storms and the effects of global warming.

It is one of the most ambitious projects ever proposed for defending a major U.S. city from the rising seas and severe weather that climate change is expected to bring. It was outlined seven months after Superstorm Sandy drove home the danger by swamping lower Manhattan and smashing homes and businesses in other shoreline neighborhoods.

"This is urgent work, and it must begin now," Bloomberg said in a speech at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, acknowledging that much of the work would extend beyond the end of his term this year. "Piece by piece, over many years and even decades, we can build a city that's capable of preparing better, withstanding more and overcoming anything."

It remains to be seen how the ideas will fare in a future mayoral administration and what kind of support - financial and otherwise - they might get from the federal government and other entities, not to mention from New Yorkers themselves.

Bloomberg said the city and federal money already allocated for Sandy relief would provide $10 billion for the project, and the city believes it could get at least an additional $5 billion in federal money.

He acknowledged that some of the ideas could block views of the water and otherwise prove controversial, but "if we're going to save lives and protect the lives of communities, we're going to have to live with some new realities."

In addition to the floodwalls around lower Manhattan, a 15-to-20-foot levee would be built to guard part of Staten Island, and gates and levees would help shield Brooklyn.

The project also calls for building dunes in Staten Island and the Rockaways, firming up the shoreline with bulkheads in various neighborhoods, and perhaps constructing a levee and a new "Seaport City" development at the South Street Seaport.

In addition, the mayor suggested giving $1.2 billion in grants to property owners to flood-proof their buildings and $50 million to nursing homes to improve theirs; making hospitals even in rarely flooded areas upgrade their pumps and electrical equipment; and expanding beaches and marshes.

"This plan is incredibly ambitious," Bloomberg said.

The sweeping proposals represent a big step up in scale and urgency for a mayor who has for years emphasized the threat climate change poses to the nation's biggest city, which has 520 miles of coastline.

The recommendations draw from updated predictions from the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a scientists' group convened by the city.

The average day could be 4 degrees to nearly 7 degrees hotter by mid-century, the panel estimates. A once-in-a-century storm would probably spur a surge 5 or more feet higher than did Sandy, which sent a record 14-foot storm tide gushing into lower Manhattan.

And with local waters a foot to 2 1/2 feet higher than they are today, 8 percent of the city's coastline could see flooding just from high tides, the group estimates.

Over the years, the city has required some new developments in flood zones to be elevated and has restored wetlands as natural barriers, among other steps.

"Sandy, obviously, increased the urgency of dealing with this and the need to plan and start to take concrete steps," Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway said Monday.

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Story Image: A mailbox with a lighthouse design sits on the porch of a burned out home in the Breezy Point section of Queens borough of New York following Hurricane Sandy. (Mark Lennihan, AP)

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