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Staten Island to build sea wall to brace for climate change impact

Staten Island is in the process of investing $615 million in a 5.3 mile sea wall along its coastline in order to build resilience and adapt to increasing effects of climate change. A part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to “climate-proof” the city, the wall is being built to withstand a 300-year flood event. This will ensure protection two feet above the record heights reached during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which devastated the city and resulted in costly damage. The project includes a levee, a buried seawall, and a vertical flood wall reaching 20 feet above sea level, and will include a boardwalk on top designed for community use. This investment aims to build resilience across the city, and addresses issues beyond just the coastline. The wall will relieve over 9,000 homes from a flood insurance requirement. It will also prevent road erosion during future storms, and also includes plans to return some inland areas to their natural wetland marsh state, in an attempt to mitigate the effects of future flooding. 

Damage in Staten Island from Superstorm Sandy (source John de Guzman/Flickr)
Damage in Staten Island from Superstorm Sandy (source John de Guzman/Flickr)

Staten Island was one of the most impacted areas from Superstorm Sandy. A combination of extreme flooding and forceful winds led to widespread damage that is still being addressed. At the time of the storm, New York City showed how vulnerable it was to this kind of weather event. The city’s subway system was disrupted due to flooding, and more than 8 million people lost power nationwide. The disruption of these systems greatly inhibits the community’s ability to respond to such disasters, and amplifies the negative effects felt from the storm. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that at least $70 billion in damages were incurred. After the storm it was found that some infrastructure, like the flood walls in place, was outdated and ill-prepared to handle this event. With more frequent and violent storms predicted to come in the future as climate change raises temperatures and sea-level, resilient planning and improved infrastructure are needed to address these past disruptions. 

The planned sea wall aims to directly address these prior failures, and will foster resilience throughout Staten Island. While the initial cost may be high, it is a resilient investment that is predicted to save money in the long-run. A report from the Center for Climate Integrity estimates that climate change could cost $400 billion in the next 20 years to protect US coastal communities. However, the sea wall is estimated to save the city $30 million each year, as it will allow for adaptation to a range of threats, and will protect exposed land. As climate change is predicted to increasingly affect communities along the coast, these types of resilient investments are needed to mitigate the increasingly harmful effects.

Sources and Further Reading

Staten Island seawall: Designing for climate change – CNN

A Great Wall of Staten Island to Ward Off Hurricanes – WNYC

New York is building a wall to hold back the ocean – VOX

Hurricane Sandy, explained – National Geographic