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Protect Red Hook From Floods, but Keep Waterfront Access, Locals Tell City

By Nikhita Venugopal | January 22, 2016 3:21pm | Updated on January 24, 2016 4:45pm
 More than a hundred community members attended a public meeting Thursday night in Red Hook to discuss a planned flood protection system for the neighborhood.
More than a hundred community members attended a public meeting Thursday night in Red Hook to discuss a planned flood protection system for the neighborhood.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

RED HOOK — A $100 million system that could protect Red Hook from another Hurricane Sandy type of event is underway, but residents are worried the city's project will take away their waterfront access.

An "integrated flood protection system" is being planned as a series of permanent and deployable features that will reduce the risk of coastal flooding in Red Hook, city officials told residents during a well-attended community meeting Thursday night. 

A sea wall, deployable gates, pumps or raised streets are among the features that the city is considering building. The goal is to integrate the changes into the neighborhood's landscape without causing any interference.

"We can't just say, 'let's put a wall around Red Hook,'" said Krystin Hense, project manager with the city's Economic Development Corporation.

But what exactly is in store for Red Hook is still being determined.

"We want to make sure that it's tailored and unique to Red Hook," Daniel Zarrilli, director of the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said at the meeting, which was also attended by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Councilman Carlos Menchaca

Red Hook was hit hard by the hurricane, with nearly all of the 1.3 square mile neighborhood covered with several feet of water. Located in Zone A of the evacuation zone, much of the neighborhood was without power, heat or phone service for several days or months.

Almost all businesses in the neighborhood were closed for months, including Fairway Market, after the devastating storm surge required nearly all ground-floor buildings to strip out the saturated walls to get rid of the mold.

Residents of the New York City Housing Authority buildings are still awaiting permanent boilers to replace the ones ruined by Sandy.

The proposed project currently has $100 million in funding — $50 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] and $50 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA].

Those funds will go toward the design, environmental review and construction of the project.

After the presentation, more than a hundred community members who attended the meeting were broken into smaller groups. Each table came up with a list of priorities for city officials to keep in mind while developing the project.

Maintaining public waterfront access, and possibly even enhancing it, was high among residents' desires.

"Red Hook was born out of the water," said nine-year Red Hook resident Alexandros Washburn, a professor of design at Stevens Institute of Technology and the author of the book "The Nature of Urban Design: A New York Perspective on Resilience."

"We felt the consequences of Sandy and the water, but that's not enough to make us go."

In addition to waterfront access, residents said they wanted to encourage the development of the maritime industry and businesses to set up shop in the neighborhood. 

Alyce Erdekian, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade, worried that the system's construction would take away what little access residents had to the coast. 

"It's what makes 'Red Hook,' Red Hook," she said during the meeting. 

Other priorities for locals included addressing Red Hook's drainage and sewage problems and hiring locals for the project's development. Residents also said the city needs to heed its promises to the community. 

"Keep us in the loop," Washburn said.

A website for the Red Hook IFPS (Integrated Flood Protection System) is expected to launch next week to keep locals informed. 

A feasibility study, which begun last fall, is currently underway and will continue till October 2016. 

During the study, city officials will determine the neighborhood's existing conditions, what flood protection features will work for Red Hook, and the cost.

A final recommendation report will be released once the study is completed, and before the project moves into its design phase.

The area being studied includes all of Red Hook, bound by Buttermilk Channel, Gowanus Bay and Gowanus Expressway, along with a small portion of the Columbia Street Waterfront District up to Degraw Street.

Officials expect to return to the community in the spring with a preliminary evaluation and some options for flood protection.