Climate Resilience Plan for New York City is Halted. Now What?
by Charlotte Fall, Global Resilience Institute
After the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York City in 2012, officials have been looking for solutions to prepare for the next hurricane and other extreme weather events. In 2014, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency (MOR) and in 2017, The New York New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries (HATS) focus area feasibility study was launched in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate five possible defenses against severe storms and flooding that pose threats to the communities along the harbor.  The possibilities include combinations of shoreline structures, such as beach nourishment, levees, floodwalls and seawalls, and storm-surge barriers. The analysis was planned to be completed in the summer of 2020, with further hearings and evaluations scheduled to help decide on a set of actions to implement the research and begin construction.
Hurricane Sandy, which inspired this project, flooded approximately 17% of the city, damaged 17,000 homes, placed 2 million people without power, and killed 44 residents. The estimate of the total cost of damage came to $19 billion. These numbers are clear evidence that a resilience plan is needed to support NYC for future climate related disasters.
Earlier this year, Mayor DeBlasio proposed a budget to continue funding the HATS analysis, but seemingly overnight, the federal funding to continue the program in 2020 was cut by Congress and caused the entire project to come to a halt. Many New York and New Jersey politicians are frustrated by the decision, as it is extremely rare that programs so near to completion that have already spent millions of dollars would be stopped. But this is not a time to let polarized political ideals come between actions to protect the city’s residents and infrastructure.
So, what happens now?
“Time is of the essence to make these resilience plans and reconfigure,” Costa Constantinides, chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, said during the hearing after the funding withdrawal. Although there are no announced plans to continue the project, this can be an opportunity for a collaborative effort from private and public investment to pick up where the analysis left off. Councilman Mark Treyger provides insight – “The more you invest in resilience, the more you can reduce your flood insurance bills.” – which shows that the pay off from continuing this analysis will be much greater than funding another $19 billion Hurricane Sandy 2.0 rebuild effort.
Around the globe, cities are responding in different ways to the climate imperative. In the Netherlands, where approximately 30% of their country lies below sea level, making them extremely susceptible to flooding, they’ve implemented a national strategy called the Delta Program to create more room for rivers and flood waters. In Canada, efforts to commit to low-impact development in infrastructure has led communities to reduce run-off and flooding by 80%.  At GRI, we follow similar steps of working with communities to build resilience plans using our Critical Infrastructure Resilience Solution to perform assessments of the current infrastructure, identify risks and gaps in the system, and evaluate post-disaster responses. Infrastructure and climate resilience are an increasingly important strategy that more cities need to plan for as climate change continues to exacerbate storms, flooding, and destruction.