RED HOOK — About a year after Red Hook was slammed by Superstorm Sandy, the neighborhood was promised a $200 million flood management system — but in recent months officials have been publicly pledging just $100 million, sparking concern from residents and local elected officials.
Back in January 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Vice President Joe Biden said that in order "to protect the low-lying neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn, the State is developing a $200 million partnership with New York City to construct a comprehensive flood management system the 1st of its kind in the nation in the community."
But during public meetings in Red Hook as recently as April 7, officials from the city's Economic Development Corporation and the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency said they were committed to spending $100 million — $50 million each from the city and state — to move forward with the "integrated flood protection system" for the area.
A January presentation from the mayor's OneNYC referred to the system as a "$100 million project" that would be "moved into design, environmental review, permitting, and construction" after a yearlong feasibility study.
The apparent reduction troubled many in the area, including Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, who released a statement to DNAinfo New York late Tuesday.
“Given that previous proposals suggested funding commitments of $200 million, it is difficult to see how this more recent funding level of $100 million would be sufficient," Velázquez said. “We should keep in mind it usually costs more than projected to actually complete work on large scale projects like these."
Velázquez, whose congressional district includes parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, pointed to other projects in her district that had received significantly more funding, such as the "East Side Coastal Resiliency" project, another flood protection undertaking on the east side of Manhattan, that's received $335 million.
“While all of these are deserving projects that should receive adequate funding, the point is additional resources will be necessary to adequately protect Red Hook from future flooding and extreme weather," her statement continued.
Community leaders and residents, as well as the Red Hook Star-Revue, have also questioned the apparent disappearance of additional $100 million promised for the project.
"I don't think anyone thinks that it can be built for $100 million," said Red Hook local and activist Adam Armstrong. "It's very discouraging."
Armstrong said he asked city officials about their new estimate and was told that the original $200 million was a "back-of-the-envelope" number, he said.
"If it was truly a misstatement, it should have been much more clearly retracted," he said.
Officials the Economic Development Corporation referred requests for comment to the mayor's office.
Despite multiple official announcements, including one from Mayor Bill de Blasio in Dec. 2014, the mayor's office said Thursday evening that the $200 million figure was just a rough estimate based on preliminary and limited information after Hurricane Sandy.
Funds allocated to the project by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must be spent by 2019, the mayor's office said. The city will continue to search for additional funding, officials added.
What the system in Red Hook will actually look like remains unclear. The "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, officials explained during recent public sessions.
That may include permanent structures like elevated bike or walking paths, sidewalk planters or barriers built in the middle of the roadway or near the coast. Deployable features could include sliding gate or flood wall "slats" that would be installed when needed.
"We don't know what we're building yet," Jessica Colon, a senior advisor from the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency said at a meeting April 7.
A feasibility study to determine the cost, design and scope of the project began last fall and will continue until October 2016, they said.
Velázquez said she plans to continue to advocate for Red Hook's full funding.
"Ultimately, the feasibility study will help determine how much money will be necessary," the congresswoman said. "My office has been working with Governor Cuomo’s and Mayor de Blasio’s offices and will continue advocating for additional resources.”
Huge swaths of Red Hook were inundated with flood water after Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012. Thousands of residents were left without heat, power or phone service for days and months, including tenants of the New York City Housing Authority buildings who are still awaiting permanent boilers to replace those wrecked by Sandy.
A robust flood protection system is needed "not only to protect the community but also to ensure that people within the community, homeowners in particular, get relief from the tremendous increase in flood insurance premiums," said John McGettrick, a longtime resident and head of the local civic association.
McGettrick said funding is a "critically important issue" for Red Hook's New York Rising Committee, part of a state program geared toward storm recovery and resiliency, and welcomed Velázquez's comments.
"With her help, we should be able to secure the additional funding that is necessary," he said.