SANDY BB Tunnel Gov Cuomo press conf-3808 crop...

SANDY BB Tunnel Gov Cuomo press conf-3808 crop crop (Photo credit: MTAPhotos)

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has outlined a storm preparedness plan that addresses power maintenance and prevention of flooding from hurricane-driven waves.  These are two of the major items under consideration by Cuomo’s NYS 2100 Commission.  The governor is well aware that it will be difficult to obtain the necessary federal funding required for his plans, but he emphasizes that prevention and mitigation of risks now, although costly, will save money and lives in the future.

The plan to protect New York City from future super storms comes at a price of more than $9 billion.  The current price for damages to the state from Sandy is $32.8 billion, with $19 billion apportioned to damages in New York City alone.  With this data available, hopefully this proposed investment will be deemed wise, particularly in light of the dire predictions of increases in the frequency of super storms.

The current proposed plan would rearrange the location of huge electrical transformers from the basements of large commercial buildings to the upper levels to prevent power failures.  Also, the state would have the systems in place to shutter key tunnels, airports and subway systems, locking out floodwaters.  Additionally, Cuomo wants to construct a seawall to prevent beach erosion and destructive surges into the city and Long Island.  Another item on board in the plan calls for the requirement for health care facilities to be equipped with backup power located at upper levels, rather than in basements.

It will be interesting to see how Gov. Cuomo’s plans play out in the current political environment, especially with the looming fiscal cliff,  Clearly the ultimate concern here is to take adequate steps to prevent injury and loss of life during extreme weather occurrences.  While there is an expectation that the federal government will offer financial support to address these problems, it also will be mandatory for each of the states affected by the storm to step up to the plate financially.  This is especially true regarding seawall barriers.

An excellent case study on the role of states in the construction and maintenance of water protection systems can be found the study of post-Katrina recovery efforts in New Orleans.  After the devastation by Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers spent $12 billion to build a system of gates, walls and armored levees to protect the city during future storms.  There still remains approximately $1 billion worth of work to be completed.  A looming issue here is the cost of upkeep of this system, which carries a hefty and ongoing, but mandatory, price tag.  By necessity, New Orleans instituted a levee tax, which was just renewed by voters.  Consequently, if a seawall is approved and constructed in New York, the citizens there can expect to shoulder the financial responsibility for its maintenance.

Another issue that will have to be addresses is oversight of any water protection projects.  Under the Flood Control Act of 1936, the Army Corps of Engineers transferred the maintenance of water-control projects to local and/or state authorities.   New York State and/or City would have to put in place the necessary authorities to handle any seawall projects constructed there.  This project will be a very expensive system which will require strict inspections and maintenance to be effective.

The recovery from Hurricane Sandy will be long, difficult and expensive.  This storm has forced New York and surrounding states to “rethink” its infrastructure.  We can expect long debates and compromises to fix the problem, and we know that the cost of any solutions will be large and ongoing.  Hurricane Sandy and the expectation of future storms of this magnitude have forced all of us to “rethink” our relationship with the earth.  Now more than ever, we need to live green, be green.

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