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Plan to Protect Manhattan from Sandy 2.0 Moves Forward

Last year, New York City nabbed a nice chunk of change to protect Lower Manhattan from future Hurricane Sandys, and now the city is ready to take these ideas from rendering to reality. The bulk of the funding, which was awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Rebuild by Design competition, will go toward building the first phase of an integrated flood protection system, the framework for which was dubbed the BIG Uand designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group. Renderings showed an earthen berm that would essentially double as a giant park, and the first piece would stretch from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street. Now the city is taking this framework and turning it into an official submission to HUD, which will start the process of, you know, actually getting this thing built. Surveying of the initial site has already begun.

The designs released by BIG may not be exactly what is constructed, but the city does plan to build a landscaped berm off the short of Lower Manhattan for protection. Even though HUD awarded funding for this idea, the city still needs an official go-ahead before it can begin implementation. To flesh out the proposal, the city has hosted several public meetings, and this type of engagement, including the launching of a local working group, will continue throughout the project. If everything goes as planned for phase one, surveying of the land and water to determine the scope of the project will be completed this year, and the design will be finalized next year, along with the environmental review and permitting. By 2019, the berm could be a reality. Dan Zarrilli, who heads the mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR), said the next 12 months will be the most critical.

In addition to the $335 million that would build a berm along the Lower East Side, $45 million would go toward protecting the Hunts Point market, which supplies up to 60 percent of the city's produce and 50 percent of its meat and fish. Hunts Point did not get flooded during Hurricane Sandy, but if the weather pattern had been a little different, it could have been. This money will help evaluate integrated coastal protection, workforce development, energy, and stormwater resiliency, and an emergency maritime supply chain in support of food supply protection. The funding will be used for continued study, analysis, and planning, as well as for design, engineering, and construction of the first phase pilot project.

Another $28 million was awarded for resiliency at Staten Island University Hospital. This will involve elevating critical building power and mechanical systems, installing sanitary holding tanks and backflow prevention, and making major wind resiliency and roofing improvements. HUD also awarded $639 million in new funds for the city's Build it Back program, plus, another $98 million for business initiatives.

The city is submitting its proposed action plan (sexily named Action Plan Amendment 8) through HUD's a Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG) program. A public hearing (the last in a series) was held last Thursday for the public to submit comments and learn about the plan, which can be read in full here (warning: large PDF!). The public was also invited to submit comments online by visiting the city's CDBG website. Copies of the amendment were available in multiple languages and interpreters were literally standing by to help. The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) also had a Ready New York table, complete with a foldout map of the city's flood zones, since they were redrawn post-Sandy. It really sticks out that all of LaGuardia Airport is in the most at-risk flood zone, flood zone 1.

The city has until February 17 to actually submit its action plan to HUD, which will then have 60 days to approve it. Assuming it does approve it, the city will receive the money and be able to move forward with the project, which city officials seem to have no doubt will happen.

At Thursday's event, State Sen. Daniel Squadron was excited about the future. He was only allowed limited remarks, but he provided a written statement that touched on flood protection, as well as Pier 42. "East Side Coastal Resiliency provides the opportunity to not only bolster the Lower East Side's resiliency against future storms, but also increase the neighborhood's access to green space by coordinating efforts with the redevelopment of Pier 42, located on the East River just east of Montgomery Street, into a world-class park," he said in his written statement.

Of course, this action plan only includes the coastal section south to Montgomery Street. There is a proposal (and it's only a proposal) for a levee system to protect from Montgomery Street to the Battery. A plan for protecting the west side, from the Battery to West 57th Street, is still in the distance. Having them not funded and built at the same time didn't sit well with Community Board 1, which essentially runs from the Brooklyn Bridge down and around to Canal Street. CB1 Chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes is concerned about how flood protection north of Montgomery Street will redirect water to surrounding areas. "We are very concerned about the timeline, implementation and funding for such a proposal," she said in a statement she had hoped to read aloud. City officials say they've done modeling and are not concerned.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All Big U coverage [Curbed]
· Rebuild by Design [official]