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De Blasio unveils $10B resiliency plan to extend lower Manhattan into East River

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The eastern edge of downtown will push out 500 feet into the East River under the plan

Lower Manhattan
Dong Wenjie/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled plans Thursday to extend lower Manhattan into the East River, pushing out the east edge of the downtown coastline as much as two city blocks in a plan that will cost a whopping $10 billion.

The massive plan is part of a multi-pronged approach to prevent storm surges and rising sea level from inundating lower Manhattan—20 percent of downtown is expected to flood daily in 100 years, according to the city. New York is no stranger to climate change, with Superstorm Sandy serving as a 2012 preview of what unprecedented storms can, and will continue to do, to the city. There is little choice but to take drastic steps to protect the economic heart of New York City—where 1 in 10 jobs are located—de Blasio told reporters Thursday.

“When it comes to New York City, one of the great coastal cities of the world, we are particularly threatened and nowhere is that threat greater than for the hundreds of thousands of people who live and work in lower Manhattan,” said de Blasio. “We had to come to grips with the sheer magnitude of what had to be done and the challenge of making it happen.”

The plan invests $500 million toward flood protection measures in the Lower East Side, South Street Seaport, the Financial District, and Battery Park. South Street Seaport and the Financial District present a unique challenge due to the area’s low-lying topography and its web of infrastructure that gives the city few options but to build outward at least 20 feet above sea level—at a colossal cost. (Currently, those neighborhoods max out at about eight feet above sea level.)

“The reality is we went through a comprehensive analysis of every possible alternative and there’s just no viable alternative but to build in the water,” James Patchett, the head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, told reporters Thursday.

De Blasio said the development of new streets and building is “possible” on that land. Parks, schools and other public amenities are also on the table, he said.

The city is kicking in funds for the early stages of the plan but de Blasio says he aims to foot the bill for the multi-billion dollar project through state and federal funds. If the federal government doesn’t cough up the cash needed for the project, the city will turn to the private sector.

Other parts of the plan are less ambitious but still daunting:

Two Bridges will get both physical walls and “deployable flip-up barriers” that will act as a bulwark against storm surge. Construction on the $200 million project is expected to begin in 2021.

In the Battery, the wharf and waterfront esplanade will be lifted, and a berm will be added to provide additional protection. This project, also expected to begin in 2021, will cost an estimated $165 million.

The Batter Park City Authority will also reconstruct its esplanade and open space. Designs took shape last year and shovels are expected to hit the ground in 2020.

Other temporary flood protection measures—such as pre-deployed HESCO barriers and dams—will also be implemented later this year, to the tune of $3.5 million.