$10s of millions in pipeline for Hoboken flood mitigation; can City manage it?

By Ron Hine | FBW | August 27, 2013

Ten months ago, when superstorm Sandy hit the region, about 75% of Hoboken was under water. This mile-square waterfront city was on all the newscasts, including the major networks, and became the poster-child for flooded urban areas. Some Hoboken homeowners and businesses are still struggling to recover, rebuild and collect insurance. Two weeks ago, the City of Hoboken unveiled its resiliency plan.

The Hoboken resiliency plan is broken down into eight areas: energy resilience, shoreline protection, flood mitigation, storm water management, critical facilities and infrastructure, emergency notification, public information and resilient building codes. The Mayor is also in the process of convening a “Resiliency Task Force” within her administration that will be announced after Labor Day.

The plan lists a series of potential grants that could bring in tens of millions of dollars for long-term protective measures. For shoreline protection, the City has submitted a $33 million grant proposal to the State of New Jersey that would fund the installation of seawalls and flood barriers. The City of Hoboken has applied to the State for $60 million to purchase three tracts of land in the flood hazard area. The North Hudson Sewerage Authority’s has applied for $20 million to construct three new shovel-ready wet weather pump stations. A long list of additional grant applications are in the pipeline for smaller amounts.

One of the grants sought by the City is for the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge which could provide funding to establish a role of Chief Resilience Officer. Currently, no one has been assigned to head up this monumental effort.

A potential problem arises from the fact that this is a regional problem that extends beyond Hoboken’s boundaries. In fact, flood waters surged into Hoboken from Jersey City at the south end of town and from the Weehawken Cove that sits on the Hoboken-Weehawken border at the north end of town. Will the flood mitigation measures be designed to protect all three of these communities? One of the criticisms of Hoboken’s initial seawall plan was that the walls would deflect flood waters into neighboring communities.

The energy resiliency effort has been aided by the following parties: U.S. Department of Energy, Sandia Natonal Laboratory, the N.J. Board of Public Utilities, and Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) that will design a micro-grid. This that can deliver uninterrupted service during disasters to critical facilities. PSE&G plans to eliminate one electrical substation and elevate the other two. The City has applied to the state for $1.3 million to purchase and install natural gas powered back-up generators for critical facilities.

After Hurricane Sandy, floodwaters overtake parked vehicles on Observer Highway in Hoboken.
Source: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

There are additional concerns about the City’s ability to function with a bitterly divided City Council and a long list of projects that have stalled for years. The City’s redevelopment plans for the Neumann Leathers Building and the Hoboken Rail Yards have languished. New plans for Washington Street, Sinatra Drive, and Observer Highway have failed to get off the ground. Nor have elected officials provided an overriding vision for the city’s future and where it should be in another ten or twenty years.

Last week, the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released its strategy report detailing 69 policy recommendations. This report emphasized using the best scientific data including projections of sea-level rise to guide development and infrastructure investments. Although Hoboken’s plans are contained in a brief three-page report, they have promised more details after Labor Day.

 

Related links

City of Hoboken Resiliency Plan
Task Force selects professional teams to design solutions
Mayor Zimmer Announces Infrastructure Initiatives – City of Hoboken
Utilizing polders as flood mitigation measure
A serious conversation about Sandy
Dutch Dialogues: A model for Hoboken
Flood insurance rates will skyrocket
Monarch Towers now in FEMA’s High Hazard Zone
79% of Hoboken falls into FEMA’s flood zone
Post Sandy: After repairing the damage, then what?
12-Point Plan in preparation for the next Sandy