The city says no to Interim Flood Protection
We have been asking for temporary flood barriers because hurricane seasons are getting more fierce It’ll be at least three years before the city’s massive East Side Coastal Resiliency project will have flood walls that will block storm surges.
A sketchy study proved it’s not possible. That’s the conclusion that the city’s Office of Emergency Management presented at Community Board 3 Parks, Recreation, Waterfront, & Resiliency Committee meeting via Zoom July 16.
Here are the reasons the OEM gave and initial reactions by East River Park ACTION (we hope to speak with OEM to clarify points and will get back on this):
It will take too long
It would take at least 24 months to implement an interim flood program. In that time, the real flood protection will almost be ready, according to OEM.
Why would it take 24 months to put some temporary barriers in place? NYC waited eight years after Sandy to look at the possibilities. The city had finally promised back in November it would look into interim flood protection. Now, apparently, it’s too late.
Backed up sewers
“Drainage issues are insurmontable,” said Suzan Rosen, reporting for the NYC Office of Emergency Management. The OEM looked into “smaller sites,” not the whole 2.4 mile coastline. They counted the catch basins on NYCHA campuses that would have to be covered. There are too many, 36 altogether.
What about what NYCHA is already doing via the FEMA protection measures that are being constructed? They might be protecting their catch basins. And they may not need interim protection, since their infrastructure flood protection should be complete within the next year. “I have no knowledge of what NYCHA is doing,” said Rosen.
(Apparently, the extensive FEMA work provides flood protection only to the buildings’ infrastructure. People would still have to evacuate when there is flooding–which means there still needs to be floodwalls along the FDR. Now, why FEMA didn’t plan for comprehensive flood control, that’s another story someone else can write. Meantime, where FEMA is working is a mess, and the walls they are putting up are prison-like.)
They can’t put up four-foot HESCO barriers (essentially chunky sandbags) because HESCOs are too low to prevent a big storm surge. It certainly looks persuasive that HESCOs won’t help the East Village because of the back flow (and maybe in NYCHA, depending on where FEMA is at). How about more likely 15-year storm surges? Would HESCOs be effective? We’ll come to that.
But what about this– during Hurricane Sandy, some areas in the neighborhood suffered only from storm surge flooding, not from back flow. OEM didn’t appear to look at whether they could install HESCOs up by the street along the FDR to protect those sections.
No 15-Year Flood Protection
OEM said that barriers would be effective in some cases for flooding from hurricanes, but not for a superstorm like Sandy. A plain old hurricane is more likely than a monster like Sandy, so why not plan ahead and put protection in for a more likely storm surge?
East Village Vulnerabilities
In the East Village, most of the water came down Ave. C from 14th St. and above. Anything to stop that flooding? No.
The East Village has the drainage problem that may be ameliorated by the East Side Coastal Resiliency. There will be a “parallel conveyance”–essentially new underground arteries and catch basins to hold storm waters. That might protect the neighborhood, which during storms has backed up waters from underground marshes and streams. However, it is unclear whether the city has incorporated these streams into the ESCR plans. See The Rivers Beneath the Streets.
Even if the city is engineering to deal with those rivers, that part of the ESCR is scheduled to be the last part of flood protection to be built. In the meantime, East Village, get out your buckets.
No Technical Report to Share
The city hired an outside firm and used city engineers as well, but there is no engineering report.
And while we’re at it, the city has never made clear whether they are incorporating the East Village’s underground streams in the parallel conveyances. If those new tunnels and catch basins block the flow of the the streams that empty into the East River, the East Village will be worse off than ever. Every rainfall could result in flooding if the underground streams have no place to go. DDC, could you please share your plans and listen to those who know the underground waters?
No Evacuation Plan
What will happen to our neighborhood if there is a superstorm–or even a regular old hurricane–in the next three years (minimum)? If we have to evacuate during this pandemic, will shelters have provisions for social distancing?
The OEM people pointed out that we would have to evacuate even if temporary barriers were in place. Interim flood protection is for buildings, not people (as is the FEMA protection for NYCHA).
No Social Distancing in an Emergency
What is in place for keeping us safe in that case? Surely the Office of Emergency Management should have a plan in place? No.
NYC to Lower East Side and East Village: Tough it out on your own
This city government is truly unresponsive to our neighborhood. They like this big $1.45 billion East Side Coastal Resiliency project, but in the years of construction and pandemic, we will have less than half our park, heavy construction, no flood protection, and nowhere to go in case of a hurricane.
To see the whole July 16 CB3 committee meeting, use the link below. Besides the report on Interim Flood Protection, you can see a lengthy presentation from the Department of Design and Construction about how they are going to start communicating with the community with a website and social media very soon. https://youtu.be/YAobIN8bE1c
For our follow-up questions to the Office of Emergency Management, see Not One Sandbag, Part 2: https://eastriverparkaction.org/2020/08/04/not-one-sandbag-part-2/