Three of the largest climate resilience projects undertaken by the city in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are far from complete 10 years after the devastating storm – and a fourth initiative has been canceled altogether even as global warming threatens to exacerbate extreme weather events in the future.
One of three ongoing post-Sandy projects is “Raised Shorelines,” which was rolled out by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016 with the aim of raising roads and other infrastructure in low-rise neighborhoods destroyed by flooding. coastal areas during the 2012 hurricane.
But as New Yorkers celebrate Sandy’s 10th birthday this weekend, the city has spent just 0.3% of the Raised Shorelines program’s $103 million budget, according to an audit published this month by Controller Brad Lander’s office.
As a result, the Raised Shorelines constructions – which cover parts of Howard Beach, Mott Basin and Norton Basin in Queens; Coney Island Creek, Gowanus Canal and Canarsie in Brooklyn, as well as the East River Esplanade in Manhattan, are not expected to be completed until June 2025, according to this year’s capital plan from Mayor Adams’ administration.
Major players are skeptical of the administration’s ability to meet the deadline, pointing to Lander’s audit, which found that 95.8% of the Raised Shorelines project budget has not been committed to date.
“Obviously, we’re not doing enough,” Brooklyn Councilman Lincoln Restler said during a council hearing for the council’s Resilience and Waterfronts Committee on Wednesday, which reviewed what the city has learned since Sandy.
According to Lander’s audit, the city has so far spent less than 75% of the $15 billion it has received in total Sandy-related resilience grants from the federal government.
Adams, however, championed the pace of the city’s progress — both under his leadership and under the administrations of de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg.
“Not everything was done perfectly, but they were dedicated,” he said earlier this week of his predecessors. “What we have to understand is the complexity of some of these projects. It’s not just about building a highway, building a building, or building a wall. We are going into uncharted territory.
Despite the unspent money reported by Lander, Adams demanded that a more reliable federal funding stream be adopted for resilience projects — in New York and the rest of the country.
He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency should lift funding caps that are delaying some projects. He also called on the state to enact new measures to allow for what’s called “incremental design-build,” a process that would allow the city to hire construction companies before the design phase of a project. .
“Now is not the time for red tape or blue tape signs,” Adams said. “It’s time for New York City, New York State and America to do things to prevent the next devastation.”
Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi suggested spending on resilience in the city has been slow due to the design process, which can take a long time and cost less than the construction phase.
“The design takes up a lot of the time period to get to the final built product, but it’s actually the cheapest part,” she said. “The heaviest part of the expense is at the end of construction. As we move into construction, the pace of spending is accelerating tremendously.
Adams’ director of climate, Rit Aggarwala, said the administration expects construction to begin soon on several of the pending Sandy projects reviewed by Lander’s audit.
“Most of this money will be spent over the next two to three years, as we have several other major projects that are currently under construction,” he said.
One post-Sandy project that isn’t about to go into construction, however, is Breezy Point Risk Mitigation.
The project was supposed to erect coastal flood protection barriers along the shoreline of Breezy Point, the residential area on the western tip of the Rockaway Peninsula that was crushed by Sandy, with floods and fires leveling some 350 homes and damaging hundreds more.
But the de Blasio administration quietly revealed in an August 2021 action plan that it had to end Project Breezy Point because it said it could not be run without violating frontline access rules. of the city.
The project is still on hold, according to a city official, who said the Adams administration is “reviewing” it now, but has not committed to a path forward.
Another major project that has made little progress in the decade since Sandy is East Side Coastal Resiliency.
The massive East Side project is meant to provide 2.4 miles of coastal protection to Manhattan through a series of berms and walls stretching from E. 25th St. to Montgomery St.
The project, which began in the fall of 2020, was originally expected to be completed by 2026. But Lander said in his audit that it likely won’t be completed until 2027 after finding that the city had only spent $13 .3% of initiative. Budget of $1.9 billion.
The Hunts Point Resiliency project has also stalled.
The project would install solar panels and storage batteries providing backup power to PS 48 and MS 424 schools in the Bronx’s Hunts Point neighborhood – but Lander’s audit found that only 6.3% of its 57 $.5 million has been spent so far.
Due to additional spending, Adams’ latest capital plan states that the Hunts Point Initiative should not be completed until June 2030, nearly two decades after Sandy killed 44 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars. property damage throughout the city.
As large-scale resilience projects move at a snail’s pace, some stakeholders are calling for the empowerment of community organizations as an alternative way to strengthen the city’s disaster preparedness.
Urban Ocean Lab, a New York-based think tank, recently published a study finding that community groups played a critical role in Sandy’s immediate aftermath by distributing food, conducting wellness checks and transforming their physical spaces into emergency shelters.
“Community organizations were among the first responders after Sandy, before government agencies stepped in on the ground,” said Sheetal Shah, a researcher at the Urban Ocean Lab, whose study took into account input from a dozen community groups who worked on the post-sand recovery efforts. “They were able to activate quickly because they are the ones who really understand their communities and understand their needs.”
The Urban Ocean Lab report, which was produced with the help of Lander’s office, cited Brooklyn’s Red Hook initiative as an example of community groups’ critical work after Sandy.
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Red Hook homes in the neighborhood were without power, heat and running water for nearly three weeks due to Sandy – and RHI opened its doors to more than 1,200 residents of the NYCHA complex for hot meals , recharge their cellphones, receive medical care and obtain supplies, according to the report.
Shah said the city should devote more resources to expanding and improving initiatives like RIH because they can fill gaps in the rescue and recovery work of government agencies.
“There are a few key things that all of these organizations are missing – increased funding, more training to develop professional and dedicated staff, and a more effective community engagement process coordinated with the city,” she said. declared. “There has been significant engagement, there just needs to be more.”
Peter Sikora, climate campaign director for New York Communities for Change, is pushing for some resilience-related funding to come from levying a tax on the rich. His group’s proposal is to charge 5% to the top 1% in the state, which he says would bring in $10 billion a year.
“The state must tax the wealthy to fund the improvements needed to get off fossil fuels and prevent future climate disasters,” he said.
Another recent disaster, last year’s Hurricane Ida, wreaked havoc on the city in part because it moved so slowly, flooding neighborhoods with a concentrated downpour that, unlike Sandy, has mainly affected low areas inland.
“Hurricane Ida last year reminded us that we cannot afford to make the mistake of waging the last war. Sandy was a coastal flood. Ida was a rainstorm,” Aggarwala said. Going forward, the Adams administration will pursue an approach to climate resilience that also focuses on all risks related to climate change.”