The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Lower Manhattan Residents Press for Hurricane Protection Program

By Test Reporter | July 22, 2010 10:31am

By Tara Kyle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Imagine hurricane-driven flood waters deluging Soho, Canal Street, Hudson River Park and other sections of lower Manhattan.

These aren’t special effects in an upcoming summer blockbuster — experts say the threat to New York City is real, and groups in lower Manhattan have begun working to explore ways to protect their neighborhoods.

Government scientists say it’s unlikely that New York could be hit by a storm as powerful as 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which was a category five storm when it touched down along the Gulf Coast. But a category three hurricane is likely to hit New York City by 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s average return periods. And the city is also overdue for hits by lesser storms, including one comparable to the hurricane that devastated parts of Long Island in 1938, experts said.

Community Board 2, which represents Greenwich Village and SoHo, is set to vote Thursday on whether to push for a study by the US Army Corps of Engineers about the possibility of placing huge storm surge barriers at key points around the city. Similar barriers have been installed in London and Rotterdam.

One of the chief proponents of the study, Stony Brook University lecturer and engineer Douglas Hill, told Community Board 2’s waterfront and environment committees during a meeting earlier this week that the threat of a hurricane striking New York is "inevitable," yet "nothing is being done."

Hill was recruited to raise awareness about the issue by longtime Chelsea community advocate Robert Trentlyon, a board member of Chelsea's Community Board 4 and president of the Chelsea Waterside Park Association.

"We have to build up some sort of public pressure," said Trentlyon, who has been working with Hill on the issue. "You can’t just have the Doug (Hill) and Bob (Trentlyon) act."

The proposal also has the support of Community Board 4, the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, Save Chelsea and the Chelsea Block Associations, and Community Board 1 is looking into the matter, Trentlyon said.

Hill said storm-surge barriers should be placed in three main spots: the Upper East River, Arthur Kill and either the Verrazano Narrows or the New York-New Jersey Outer Harbor. The shields would protect flood-prone areas like East Harlem and Lower Manhattan.

The combined cost of the hypothetical project would be close to $10 billion, according to proposals from the four firms that presented conceptual designs at a 2009 event at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. But U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Chris Gardner said it was impossible to estimate at this time what such a study would cost because New York has no precedent for a project of this scale.

Hill said the city is no stranger to devastating hurricanes, including the 1938 hurricane — dubbed the Long Island Express — which caused extensive death and destruction when it made landfall.

More recently, a December 1992 Nor'easter flooded the FDR Drive and the Battery Park Tunnel and forced the rescue of drivers from cars and a PATH train. And climatologists think that things will only get worse if rising sea levels attributed to climate change strengthen future hurricanes and Nor’easters.

Trentlyon said he’s also pushing to insert the proposal about storm surge barriers into the Department of City Planning’s Vision 2020 Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, which will be completed at the end of the year. The department discussed sea level rise and climate resilience recently at one of the public workshops held by the department.

Jason Mansfield, who chairs the Community Board committee that deals with environmental issues, believes the full board would lend its support to the study, given that "a large portion of our district is in the flood zone."

"This is a very real danger," Mansfield said. "It’s not some crazy alarmist thing, it is entirely possible. And we need to be planning for it like other cities around the world are planning for it."