June 12, 2013
Two Sandy-related bills are making their way through both chambers of the state legislature which at their core have an explicit goal –to greenlight development along the Hudson River coastline. The Senate bill (S2680), which passed the Senate with a resounding 37-3 vote, and the Assembly version (A3933) which was reported out of the Environment & Solid Waste Committee on Monday, would “permit development on piers in coastal high hazard areas in certain urban municipalities.” This legislation was introduced as part of a package of Sandy-related bills that are described by their proponents as “mitigation” or “rebuilding” efforts. FBW is here to explain why these bills are important especially as they pertain to Hoboken:
What exactly do S2680 and A3933 propose to do?
There isn’t a whole lot of grey areas here. Both S2680 and A3933 have a single, unifying purpose: to allow development in areas defined as “coastal high hazard areas” by FEMA. Specifically, the bill would allow “residential development, hotels, motels, mixed use development, and commercial development… on piers which extend over large rivers” (e.g. Hudson River). The legislation was amended to apply only to “existing piers.” At a public hearing on April 25, 2013 a proponent of the legislation testified that there are currently “half-a-dozen” piers that will be affected by this legislation, several of which are located in Weehawken.
What is a coastal high hazard area?
Coastal high hazard areas, designated as ‘V’ zones on flood insurance maps, are the areas of the coastal floodplain subject to the highest risk. Typically, this is the area where the estimated wave heights for the base flood (in the event of a storm like Sandy) are 3 feet or more. V zones are subject to the most stringent building requirements because these areas are exposed to a greater degree of risk than other coastal flooding areas.
With this information, is it not a better idea to prohibit development in these high-risk areas?
There are clear and obvious benefits from preventing development in the coastal high hazard zone. These are areas where potential monetary damages and the probability of flooding is highest. A the same time, insurers and banks will likely flinch at putting their skin in the game. In fact, current law does indeed prohibit residential development in coastal high hazard areas for these purposes, if not explicitly but implicitly. The Hoboken central waterfront was relatively unscathed by Sandy’s storm surge due partly to the situating of public parks and natural greenery rather than residential or commercial structures. Hoboken’s public waterfront park serves a dual purpose in that it provides ample recreational opportunity and acts as a buffer between the Hudson River and nearby buildings.
Senator Sacco said that other piers went through the storm without a problem, so why worry?
The region’s actual experience with Sandy demonstrated the vulnerability of structures immediately abutting the coastline. One example of damage sustained as a result of pier development is the Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex in New York. The sprawling complex suffered millions of dollars worth of damage and as a result was forced to shut its doors for an extended period of time. Another example is Riva Pointe in Weehawken, NJ where an elderly woman, having suffered a heart attack during the storm, was dangerously stranded due to her location on a pier with limited access to emergency personnel because of flooding.
How will this affect Hoboken?
Effectively, all of Hoboken’s immediate coastline falls within the newly determined coastal high hazard zone, including the proposed site of the Monarch project at Hoboken’s north waterfront. If this legislation is signed into law by the governor, then projects like the Monarch would receive a nod from the state that proceeding with developing exposed piers is perfectly acceptable behavior.
FEMA’s release of its Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps had a profound effect on Hoboken’s coastline. Soon-to-be-replaced flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) dictate that the Monarch site is not designated as a coastal high hazard area. However, the new maps take advantage of the best available data which says that a greater chunk of real estate is now subject to higher risk standards, including the dilapidated pier at the north waterfront.
What can you do to help stop this bill?
One of the best ways you can help defeat this bill is by reaching out to your legislators via email, telephone, or letter. Since the senate version has already passed the senate, contacting the primary sponsors of A3933 is the best way to voice your opposition. The following are links to the assembly members’ relevant contact information: Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez.
Senator Sacco’s bill would put people in harm’s way
Monarch Towers now in FEMA’s Coastal High Hazard Zone
A serious conversation about Sandy
Flood insurance rates will skyrocket
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