Can the $119 billion breakwater protect New York?

The 9.6km-long breakwater will protect New York from floodwaters during superstorms, but critics say it’s outdated because of rising seas and an environmental threat.

The storm is moving towards New York pushing sea level rise into residential areas as in Superstorm Sandy. It’s a scenario that planners hope can be prevented with an artificial island with gates – that can be closed – from the Rockaways in Queens to a stretch of New Jersey land south of Staten Island. said.

The closed gate can create a 9.6 km long wall , helping to protect the people and property inside. The giant barrier is the number one choice of five solutions that the US Army engineers are studying to protect New York, as storms become more frequent and more destructive due to global warming. .

The proposals have sparked fierce debate, as New York and other coastal cities grapple with the conundrum of transforming landscapes and lifestyles to survive rising seas.

Proponents of the barrier say it is the best solution to protect the majority of people, property and landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, from the storm that swept across the East and Hudson Rivers, while not cutting. cut the city off the riverbank.

Catherine McVay Hughes, who led the community council in Lower Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy, supported the fence outside New York Harbor.

“Protections should be built only on the coast, but high enough to avoid the biggest flood. Do you want a wall between 6-9 meters high between Battery Park and the river?” she said.

Advocates like McVay Hughes are intrigued by the prospect of a giant barrier that would protect much of New York from rising ocean waves. They also say that adopting onshore solutions such as embankment and restoration of wetlands, can benefit wealthy areas first, rather than low-income communities. suffered the most damage in Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Despite the good prospects that the retaining wall offers, environmental experts say it is a patchwork solution that only solves the immediate problem, not the optimal solution. to deal with the larger threat of climate change. It even makes things worse.

Can the $119 billion breakwater protect New York?
The huge Russian breakwater project to protect the city of St. Petersburg from flooding. (Photo: TASS).

The barrier design of the US Army engineers only solves the problem of waves during storms. It will not cope with two major threats related to climate change: rising seas, high tides and possibly sewage reservoirs, threatening the fledgling ecosystem in the New York area.

The US Engineers estimate the wall is worth about 9 billion. It is not clear whether New York City, New York State, New Jersey and the US Congress will agree to fund the project, which will take 25 years to build.

Even if construction is approved, opponents say the retaining wall could be decades out of date, even when it’s in the construction phase. They argue that estimates of future sea level rise by US Army engineers are too low.

“This sea barrier will not be able to protect communities from flooding caused by rising sea levels. Once it’s built it’s going to be a huge risk and we won’t get the money back,” Scott M. Stringer, a musician in New York, wrote in a letter protesting the plan.

Clifford S. Jones III, New York’s planning director, said if there is an ecologically and economically viable solution that can protect New York and New Jersey, one should promote it.

However, the construction of a retaining wall at the mouth of the New York sea will cause major environmental problems. When it rains, New York’s sewage system can push waste into waterways. A large retaining wall can cause mud accumulation near shore.

Can the $119 billion breakwater protect New York?
The Thames Barrier project in London, although helping to control floods, causes great damage to the ecological environment. (Photo: Bloomberg).

“We’re basically sitting in the tub with our own poop,” said Kimberly Ong, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Environmentalists say any barrier, even if open on storm-free days, will change the natural flow, sediment and salinity in the Hudson River, affecting migration and farming. marine life nutrition.

The breakwater debate comes as New York City struggles to cope with hurricanes like Sandy and the greater need to reshape the region’s infrastructure to accommodate it. Climate Change.

Over the past seven years, since the storm killed 72 people and caused billion in damage, city agencies have spent 54 percent of the .7 billion allocated by the federal government to help the city. recover and prepare for new storms.

However, no one is sure whether ambitious and costly technical solutions will work in the long run and what their negative impact will be. There have been similar projects in the world and have clearly shown their duality.

Can the $119 billion breakwater protect New York?
Sea level rise prevention complex west of Intracoastal Bay in New Orleans. (Photo: New York Times).

An 8-kilometer-long revolving door structure built after a deadly storm in the Netherlands in 1950 worked to contain flooding, but it caused great damage to the environment, altering estuary ecosystems and surrounding swamp. The Thames Barrier project in London also had similar results.

Russia built a sea wall nearly 24 km long, completed in 2010. It protected the city of St. Petersburg from a powerful storm a year later.

The City of Boston recently studied a similar barrier project in New York, but the city council later rejected approval in favor of onshore solutions, such as retractable flood walls, terraces ladder.

The controversy over the giant breakwater project in New York is a testament to the complexity that humans are facing in response to climate change. Each solution has its pros and cons.

Proponents say zonal protection makes the most sense, while opponents argue that it benefits only wealthy communities.

“A retaining wall is a shiny object, a silver bullet that draws us away from where we need to be,” said Paul Gallay, head of advocacy group the Hudson River. The danger of a great wall is that if it fails, we are all in danger. We need layered solutions that don’t depend on a particular project.”

The project management received thousands of objections from various aspects of the proposal and promised to hold more hearings. They commit that any project must undergo a rigorous environmental impact assessment, before being presented to Parliament no earlier than 2022.