NEW YORK — New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presented, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” a comprehensive and ambitious report that analyzes the city’s climate risks and outlines recommendations to protect neighborhoods and infrastructure from future climate events. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg launched the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency and charged it with recommending steps the city should take to protect against the impacts of climate change.
Under the leadership of Seth W. Pinsky and using the foundation built through the city’s comprehensive sustainability agenda, PlaNYC, the Special Initiative produced the 430-page report, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” with more than 250 specific recommendations to further fortify the city against climate events. The mayor released the report in an extensive presentation to elected officials, business and community leaders and leading climate experts at the Duggal Greenhouse — which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy and has since reopened as one of the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s 330 businesses.
“Six years ago, PlaNYC sounded the alarm about the dangers our city faces due to the effects of climate change and we’ve done a lot to attack the causes of climate change and make our city less vulnerable to its possible effects,” said Bloomberg. “But Hurricane Sandy made it all too clear that, no matter how far we’ve come, we still face real, immediate threats. These concrete recommendations for how to confront the risks we face will build a stronger more resilient New York. This plan is incredibly ambitious — and much of the work will extend far beyond the next 200 days — but we refused to pass the responsibility for creating a plan onto the next administration. This is urgent work, and it must begin now.”
New York City’s climate risks
In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg convened the New York City Panel on Climate Change — making New York one of the first American cities to organize a group of leading climate and social scientists to develop local climate change projections. Their findings, released in a report in 2009, described the climate impacts New York could expect in the future — which include not just sea level rise and more frequent coastal storm surge, but increased heat and more frequent and intense downpours. In September 2012, the city passed Local Law 42 to establish the Panel on Climate Change as an ongoing body to advise the city on the latest climate science.
Following Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg re-convened the New York City Panel on Climate Change to update its projections and develop future coastal flood risk maps — all of which would inform the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency.
The new data from the Panel shows:
• Sea levels could rise at a faster rate than forecast just four years ago — potentially by more than 2.5 feet by the 2050s.
• By the 2050s, the city could have three times as many days at or above 90 degrees — leading to heat waves that threaten public health and the power system, among other infrastructure systems.
• The number of days with more than two inches of rainfall will grow from three in the last century to five in the 2050s.
• The Panel’s full report, complete with detailed insight of their methodology and findings, is available on www.nyc.gov and informed the development of the proposals outlined in “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.”
Finally, the analysis from the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency shows that the costs of storms will increase: Sandy totaled $19 billion in damage and economic loss; in 2025, that cost grows to $35 billion and by 2055, $90 billion.
Coastal protection proposals
New York City’s 520-mile coastline is longer than those of Miami, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco combined. According to the latest projections from the Panel on Climate Change, sea level rise of up to 11 inches in the 2020s and 31 inches in 2050, coupled with more frequent and intense storms, put the city’s coastline in jeopardy. However, with 535 million built square feet and nearly 400,000 residents living in the existing 100-year floodplain, the coastline is critical to New York’s future. The coastal protection strategies developed by the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency focus on fortifying defense and expanding natural protections, rather than retreating from the waterfront. These strategies include a series of first-phase measures that can be implemented immediately to protect the most vulnerable assets and shoreline, as well as a number of additional “full-build” projects to protect most of the vulnerable shoreline within the city. These additional projects can be implemented as additional resources are secured.
Install adaptable floodwalls and other measures — Known as integrated flood protection systems, measures like flood walls and levees can reduce the risk of flooding during storm surges. They can also be integrated with the urban environment to provide access to the waterfront for recreational, transportation and commercial uses. The city will work to install, in a first phase, integrated flood protection systems in Hunts Point in the Bronx to protect the Food Distribution Center; on the East Harlem Waterfront along the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive; at Hospital Row north of East 23rd Street in Manhattan; the Lower East Side; Chinatown; the Financial District; and in Red Hook in Brooklyn.
Staten Island levee and floodwall system — The city will construct an extensive system of permanent levees, floodwalls and other protective measures along the East Shore of Staten Island — from Fort Wadsworth to Tottenville, including Midland Beach. The project will rise as high as 15 to 20 feet, protecting communities that were devastated by Sandy and that have seen coastal flooding even during regular nor’easters for years.
Install storm surge barrier at Newtown Creek — The city will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and install a storm surge barrier with gates and connecting levees at Newtown Creek that is navigable in non-storm conditions. In extreme weather, the barrier system will close, keeping water from flowing into the creek and creating “backdoor flooding” in neighborhoods from Long Island City and Greenpoint in Maspeth.
Study future surge barriers for Jamaica Bay and other regions — The city will also work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of surge barriers across the mouth of Jamaica Bay to protect the communities of Gerritsen Beach, Howard Beach, Broad Channel, Canarsie and Mill Basin, the Rockaway Inlet, as well as the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.
Install tidal barrier along Coney Island Creek — Known as revetments, stone shorelines protect against erosion and rising sea levels. The city proposes installations across Coney Island Creek, to prevent “back-door flooding” from smaller storms.
Install dune systems in Staten Island and Rockaway Peninsula — The city will also complete the construction of a dune system from New Dorp Beach to Oakwood Beach in Staten Island, and complete dune improvements on the Rockaway Peninsula from Beach 9th Street to Beach 149thStreet. The city will work with the Army Corps to study and construct a dune project along the Rockaway Peninsula, starting with a double dune system at Breezy Point, and also study a dune project for Coney Island.
Install bulkheads — Bulkheads are typically made of stone or concrete and hold shorelines in place, while also protecting against sea-level rise and preventing erosion. The city will implement a program to raise bulkheads in targeted neighborhoods throughout New York, for example the bayside of the Rockaway Peninsula, Broad Channel and Howard Beach in Queens; Greenpoint in Brooklyn; the North Shore in Staten Island; West Midtown in Manhattan; and Locust Point in the Bronx and other low-lying locations. The city will also repair bulkheads on the Belt Parkway that failed during Hurricane Sandy; and repair and improve bulkheads from Beach 143rd Street to Beach 116th Street along Beach Channel Drive in Rockaway.
Study construction of ‘Seaport City’ — By installing a multi-purpose levee with raised edge elevations, the city could both protect much of the East River shoreline south of the Brooklyn Bridge from inundation and create a new area for both residential and commercial development. Using the model of Battery Park City, which was designed to withstand major flooding, the city will work with local communities, businesses and property owners to explore opportunities for a new neighborhood.
Restore and maintain beaches — The city will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replace sand and expand the beaches — a critical storm barrier — lost during and before Hurricane Sandy. This will include ongoing restoration at Coney Island Beach, including 1 million cubic yards of sand; Rockaway Peninsula, which will include 3.6 million cubic yards of sand; and South Beach, Crescent Beach and Tottenville in Staten Island.
Complete floodgate and tide gate repairs — The city will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete floodgate repairs at Oakwood Beach in Staten Island and complete a tide gate repair study at Flushing Meadow Corona Park in Queens.
Minimize wave zones — The city will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study and install offshore breakwaters that absorb the force of waves adjacent to and south of Great Kills Harbor in Staten Island. The city will also work with the Army Corps to study the feasibility of offshore breakwaters near City Island, the Bronx, and west of the Rockaway Peninsula.
Expand natural areas for wave protection in Queens and Staten Island — The city will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study and install a wetlands restoration project to weaken waves along Howard and Hamilton Beaches and elsewhere in Jamaica Bay in Queens; and a living shoreline of oyster reef breakwaters and sand in Tottenville in Staten Island. The city will also work with the Army Corps to use their existing Congressional authorization to expand wetlands throughout Jamaica Bay and citywide, including the North Shore of Staten Island the upper reach of the East River.
Protect Con Edison’s Farragut Substation — The city will work with Con Edison to help it protect the Farragut substation, which serves nearly 1.25 million people and was nearly flooded during Hurricane Sandy due to its location on the Brooklyn waterfront.
Explore a series of “full build” defenses, including beginning the analysis and design process for Seaport City — By installing a multi-purpose levee with raised edge elevations, the city could both protect much of the East River south of the Brooklyn Bridge from inundation and create a new area for both residential and commercial development. Using the model of Battery Park City, which was designed to withstand major flooding, the city will work with local communities, businesses and property owners to explore opportunities for a new neighborhood.
After Hurricane Sandy, the city assessed building damage data and found that, while small, light buildings built before 1961 — when the city updated its building codes — represented just 18 percent of buildings in the Sandy inundation zone, they comprised 73 percent of those destroyed or structurally compromised. In the case of most other buildings, damage tended to be primarily to critical building systems, such as electrical systems, elevators, boilers and drinking water systems; there were relatively fewer modern and larger buildings that experienced significant structural damage.
These findings – among others – demonstrate that construction and zoning codes play a crucial role in ensuring that the city’s building stock can withstand flooding and other destructive forces, and that protection of critical building systems must be a priority. The city’s proposals will improve the existing 68,000 buildings now in the 100-year floodplain through retrofitting and updating current regulations so that new construction meets higher standards.
Designate $1.2 Billion for flood resistance measures — The city will make $1.2 billion in loans or grants available to building owners to complete flood resiliency measures, including: elevating or protecting critical building equipment, fire protection systems, electrical equipment, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; upgrading foundations; and reinforcing exterior walls to flood-proof buildings. Funds will be set aside for particular affected building types and areas, including: $100 million for one- to three-family homes; $500 million to be divided among the boroughs based on their share of buildings in the 100-year floodplain; and $100 million for affordable housing projects.
Update zoning and construction codes — The city has proposed an amendment to the Zoning Resolution to allow buildings to be elevated without being penalized for height limitations; update the Building Code to require new construction to meet specific elevations as predicted by flood risk and clarify wind-resistance specifications; and amend the Construction Codes to better protect systems, including fire protection, electrical, and telecommunications systems.
Rebuild damaged housing stock — Through the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations, the city will deploy the initial Federal allocation of $530 million to rebuild and improve properties damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Retrofit public housing — The city will strengthen New York City Housing Authority developments and use $108 million in federal Hurricane Sandy aid to begin the first phase, focused on power resiliency and the installation of emergency generators or other alternative measures.
Launch sales tax abatement program — The city will launch a sales tax abatement program for industrial businesses concentrated in coastal areas to subsidize the cost of making flood resiliency improvement. The program will be implemented by the New York City Industrial Development Agency and benefits will be capped at $10 million.
Hurricane Sandy highlighted the impact recent reforms to the Federal flood insurance program will have on New Yorkers. Properties located in the 100-year floodplain (determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood maps) are required to have flood insurance if they have a federally backed mortgage. Last year, before Hurricane Sandy struck, Congress passed legislation that will dramatically increase the cost of federal flood insurance for many New Yorkers. That means that for a typical family living in Tottenville, Staten Island (a community with a median household income of $80,000), the cost of flood insurance alone may be up to $10,000 per year — 20 percent of the family’s after-tax income. The city’s proposals intend to reform the Federal flood insurance program so that it’s both more flexible and affordable, while encouraging property owners to take steps to reduce their risk of flood damage.
Reduce rates for different resiliency measures — Under federal guidelines, the cost of flood insurance is reduced if buildings are elevated — but that’s simply not possible in New York. Approximately 26,000 buildings in the newly expanded floodplain would not be able to elevate easily — if at all — and so would not qualify for reduced flood insurance rates. The city will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a system that allows proven mitigation measures other than elevation to qualify for premium reductions.
Create flexible pricing options — Flexible pricing options can encourage more people, especially those not required to carry insurance, to purchase coverage that meets their needs. A high-deductible could help reduce rates and offer protection to those who either aren’t required to have insurance or outside of a flood zone but would still like a policy.
The city’s healthcare system must maintain sufficient capacity to meet patients’ needs during disasters and be prepared to resume normal services as quickly as possible. The recommendations will help ensure that medical facilities can stay open and continue to serve New Yorkers.
Improve new hospital design and construction — The city will amend the Construction Codes to require hospitals to build to the 500-year flood elevation standards, which are higher than the 100-year flood standards required today.
Require existing hospitals to meet higher standards — The city will require existing hospitals in the 500-year flood-plain to adopt retrofits that protect their electrical equipment, emergency power systems and domestic water pumps by 2030. The city will adopt similar requirements for nursing homes and adult care facilities in the 100-year flood plain.
Launch $50 million mitigation program for nursing homes and adult care facilities — The city will make up to $50 million available to qualifying nursing home and adult care facilities that invest in mitigation retrofits, including protecting power, water, air conditioning and heating systems.
Power, telecommunications and other critical systems
In the future, stronger storms and longer and more intense heat waves will pose to challenges to the city’s infrastructure and systems need to be upgraded. Fifty-three percent of New York City’s power plants are in the 100-year floodplain and by the 2050s, 97 percent will be; fuel suppliers are not required to harden supply lines, although many are in areas at risk of flooding or power outages; and significant gaps in telecommunications regulations have left cable TV, broadband, wireless and wired voice system networks exposed.
Require utilities to address climate risks — The city will work with utility companies, regulators and climate scientists to analyze the risks and require plans that will update systems so that they can withstand events like Hurricane Sandy. The city will also work with suppliers and regulators to harden key power generators and electric transmission and distribution substations against flooding; strengthen overhead lines against winds; and protect the natural gas and steam systems against flooding.
Develop power restoration standards — Currently, utilities are not held to service restoration standards during severe weather events like Sandy. Thus, the city will work with the governor’s office, the State Public Utility Commission, Con Edison and LIPA to create these standards, and also to develop strategies to assess power conditions in real-time and restore service more quickly.
Set resiliency requirements for telecommunications — The city will include resiliency standards — including repair timelines — a part of its oversight of telecommunications providers. The city will establish the Planning and Resiliency Office within the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to work with service providers to increase the resiliency of their respective systems within New York.
Diversify energy sources — The city will work with utility companies, technology developers, and building owners to increase the flexibility of the grid and strengthen it with the integration of distributed generation and renewable resources.
Develop fuel security strategy — The city will work with the federal government to convene a regional working group to create a plan to harden fuel pipelines, refiners and other terminals so that fuel supplies remain intact during climate events. The city will also develop a robust system to provide fuel during supply disruptions caused by severe weather events, supply emergency response and other critical fleets.
Community rebuilding and resiliency plans
Aside from looking at citywide vulnerabilities and strategies to strengthen the five boroughs, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” details specific strategies for the communities severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy. These community rebuilding and resiliency plans are described in chapters designated to the following areas:
• Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront
• East and South Shores of Staten Island
• Southern Queens
• Southern Brooklyn
• Southern Manhattan
The total cost of the more than 250 recommendations detailed in the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency report is nearly $20 billion — a sum that assumes each proposal is implemented along the suggested timeline. The city can rely on $10 billion provided through a combination of city capital funding already allocated and federal relief, as well as $5 billion from additional, expected federal relief already appropriated by Congress. The report lists several strategies to cover the remaining $4.5 billion gap, including additional federal funding and city capital.
Bloomberg’s address and the full report, "A Stronger, More Resilient New York," are available at www.nyc.gov.