New York's mayor wants to spend $10 billion to save Wall Street from disastrous flooding, but some people are sceptical

Visions of America/UIG/Getty ImagesThe Manhattan skyline as seen from Queens.
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City just revealed a $US10 billion plan to extend part of Manhattan’s coastline by up to two city blocks.
  • The mayor said the project would protect the city’s financial district – home to about 500,000 jobs – from flooding caused by sea-level rise.
  • Some politicians worry that the project will draw from private funds, while others say the plan neglects vulnerable boroughs like Queens.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City recently unveiled a $US10 billion plan to extend part of Manhattan’s coastline by up to two city blocks. The proposed extension would run on the southeastern side of the island from the Brooklyn Bridge to Battery Park, creating a barrier for the city’s financial district, which is home to about 500,000 jobs and 90,000 residents.

By elevating parts of a newly constructed landfill about 20 feet above sea level, de Blasio hopes to protect vital pieces of infrastructure, including utilities and subway lines.

“We’re going to build it, because we have no choice,” de Blasio wrote in an op-ed article for New York magazine. “This should be as much a national priority as a local one.”

Read more:
Sea levels are rising faster than they have in 28 centuries – here’s where New York City could flood first

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that New York City will see as much as 11.6 feet of sea-level rise by 2100. Under this extreme scenario, areas like Wall Street and the East Village could find themselves inundated with water. Under the agency’s more conservative projections, the city can expect about 6 feet of sea-level rise – a scenario that would still put the edges of Lower Manhattan in danger.

A new report from New York City found that more than 6 feet of sea-level rise would put nearly half of the city’s properties at risk of flooding.

De blasio climate planNYC Mayor’s Office

“We don’t debate global warming in New York City,” de Blasio wrote. “The only question is where to build the barriers to protect us from rising seas and the inevitable next storm, and how fast we can build them.”

Many politicians and climate scientists have raised the same questions, but they’re sceptical that de Blasio’s $US10 billion plan is the answer.

Perhaps the biggest concern among politicians is how the city would fund the project. At a press conference, de Blasio said the proposal should be backed by federal funds, but he also acknowledged that the Trump administration was unlikely to jump on board.

That leaves the mayor with few options: Wait until a Democrat is elected president, or hope for a Democratic majority in the Senate in 2020. (De Blasio, a Democrat, has indicated his own desire to run for president.)

Queens hurricane sandyAllison Joyce/Getty ImagesResidents wading through floodwater in Queens during Hurricane Sandy.

If the federal government is unwilling to participate, de Blasio said, the city may explore private funding. A privately funded project would bear a much closer resemblance to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2013 plan to extend a 1-1/2-mile stretch along lower Manhattan. At the time, Bloomberg hoped the project would be financed by the construction of residential towers on flood-protected land.

Given the political blowback to a proposed Amazon headquarters in the Long Island City neighbourhood of Queens, across the East River from Manhattan, a privately funded development along the East River is likely to incite criticism among community members.

In a statement to Business Insider, the New York City Council member Margaret Chin said a private real-estate development “would destroy the waterfront neighbourhoods that we are trying to protect” in lower Manhattan.

Rockaways construction new yorkCarolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Getty ImagesA project to replenish Rockaway Beach after parts of the land were lost during Hurricane Sandy.

Others have pointed out that de Blasio’s plan excludes boroughs beyond Manhattan.

The day after de Blasio’s op-ed article came out, the climate scientist Peter Gleick called the plan “a partial, temporary adaptation” to sea-level rise.

Another City Council member, Francisco Moya, who represents a district in Queens, also criticised the proposal for neglecting Long Island City and Brooklyn neighbourhoods including Red Hook, Coney Island, and Brighton Beach.

When Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City in 2012, it claimed the most lives in Queens and Staten Island.

The city is already building a flood-resistant boardwalk in the Rockaways in Queens and has plans to build a $US615 million seawall along Staten Island’s eastern shore. But these projects pale in comparison with a $US10 billion extension of lower Manhattan.

In addition to protecting Wall Street businesses, an elevated landfill would shelter the Federal Reserve, which de Blasio described as “the global center of commerce” and “the home to a sector of our economy that touches every town and region in America.”

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