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Cost of Making City Storm Resilient Likely to Rise, Budget Watchdog Says

 A rendering of "Seaport City" included in Mayor Bloomberg's climate change resiliency plan.
A rendering of "Seaport City" included in Mayor Bloomberg's climate change resiliency plan.
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NEW YORK — The city’s Independent Budget Office warned that the cost of making New York City as storm resilient as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed could go far beyond the initial $19.5 billion price tag.

“Protecting the city from rising tides, storm surges, and other effects of climate change is critical. It will also be expensive,” wrote IBO chief of staff Doug Turetsky in a blog post Friday. “While a great deal has been said recently about the near-term costs of settling the expired contracts with the city’s municipal labor force, it could be the longer-term costs of resiliency that swamp the city’s budget.”

In June, the Bloomberg administration released its plan to prepare the city for climate change-related weather in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“By hardening our coastline, by making our building stock stronger, by creating a more durable power network and better stormwater infrastructure, and so much more, we can be better prepared for anything the future holds,” Bloomberg wrote in the preface to the report.

But, as Turestky points out, the cost estimate for the bulk of those plans is on the low end of the administration’s own calculations. Using the high-end estimate for the 250 projects that will need more than $1 million each brings the cost up from $14 billion to $16.8 billion.

That's before you add on additional costs for to study a number of projects. For example, the estimated cost to complete a tide gate repair study at Flushing Meadows Corona Park is between $1 and $5 million. The actual cost of building tide gates is not included.

There are also projects that don’t have all the funding included. Turetsky points to the cost of repairing and upgrading storm-damaged NYCHA buildings, which could cost upwards of $750 million. But that only covers 40 percent of the affected buildings that will also need to be repaired at a significant cost.

Paying for all of this would be a combination of city tax dollars and federal funds. However, there’s $4.5 billion in projects—such as $1 billion to build storm barriers at Newtown Creek between Queens and Brooklyn—that are list as “TBD” for their funding sources.

“There’s no question that the city needs to take the steps to protect itself from the effects of climate change,” Turetsky said during a phone interview. “But those steps are going to be costly, and it seems likely that it will be more expensive than the mayor estimated.”

Bloomberg’s office did not respond to a request for comment.