The Dutch Dialogues: A model for Hoboken

By Ron Hine | FBW | February 22, 2013

On January 31, 1953, during a high tide, a severe windstorm off the North Sea struck the Netherlands. The surge that ensued overwhelmed the primary dike system, flooding much of the country. This natural disaster cost millions of dollars and took the lives of nearly two-thousand people. In a bold response, the Dutch laid down a strict set of rules and then built an elaborate, sophisticated flood defense system coined the Delta Works which was completed in 1998.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. When the skies cleared, the storm was responsible for nearly two-thousand deaths and property damages of more than $80 billion –the costliest natural disaster ever recorded. Over 80 percent of New Orleans flooded. The failure of New Orleans’ levee system is considered one of the worst civil engineering disasters in U.S. history.

After Katrina exposed the weaknesses of New Orleans’ flood defense system, the city looked to the Netherlands for sage advice. Thus began the Dutch Dialogues. This program grew out of a series of extended interactions between Dutch engineers, urban designers, hydrologists and landscape architects and their Louisiana counterparts. New Orleans architect David Waggonner worked with the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the American Planning Association to create this multi-year collaboration which aims to mitigate the impact of future storms.

On October 29, 2012, superstorm Sandy tore through the Caribbean ultimately making landfall near the southeastern coast of New Jersey. New York and Connecticut were also hit hard by Sandy as the storm’s tropical-force winds extended more than 1,000 miles. Sandy made landfall during high tide on a full-moon night, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Early estimates of the storm’s damage were greater than $75 billion, making it the second costliest Atlantic hurricane behind Katrina.

Hoboken, like New Orleans, is a coastal urban community. The surge caused by Sandy flooded 80 percent of Hoboken, stranding much of the population. People were denied access to food, rescue personnel and other emergency services prompting the arrival of the National Guard. Residents were without power for seven days or more. Hoboken’s only hospital had to be evacuated. The Hoboken PATH train — the choice of transit for 25,000 daily commuters — was out of service for a month.

Like New Orleans, Hoboken has an opportunity to learn from the Dutch. Hoboken’s plan to mitigate future flood events must be comprehensive and based on sound principles of water management. Any proposed remedies must be crafted in a manner that speaks to long-term planning and enduring resiliency.

Dutch Dialogue I began in January 2006 when a delegation from Louisiana traveled to the Netherlands to learn about Dutch practices in water management. The Dutch Embassy in Washington facilitated a series of meetings with the Dutch Institute for Inland Water Management, academic institutions, port and water board officials, and private-sector planning organizations. As a result of this trip, a diverse group of Dutch experts and risk managers were better prepared to address Louisiana’s needs.

One of the renderings produced through the Dutch Dialogues workshops.

In October 2008, Dutch Dialogues II convened. The Dutch experts arrived in New Orleans, received a crash course on local politics, and then proceeded to catalog the extensive system of levees, pumping stations, canals and rivers built before Katrina’s landfall. The Dutch professionals were then joined by their local counterparts in a workshop to develop an executable plan. A huge volume of sketches, drawings and ideas were produced. Dutch Dialogues II concluded with two detailed presentations, one directed at key New Orleans public officials and one aimed at educating the general public.

Today, the Dutch Dialogues remains an active conversation between New Orleans and Dutch partners. Last year, Waggonner & Ball Architects was awarded a contract to develop a Comprehensive, Sustainable Integrated Water Management Strategy for the New Orleans area. Stormwater, wastewater, groundwater, flood control and water infrastructure were all included as part of this contract.

The Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) is pursuing funding to develop a similar program for Hoboken. Many Sandy relief funds have turned their focus to long-term mitigation strategies. Hoboken can serve as a laboratory to develop replicable solutions for urban waterfront communities that are susceptible to storm surge and flooding disasters. As a first step, FBW will collect detailed spot elevation data for the Hoboken area using optical remote sensing technology. This will form the basis for performing floodplain analysis and testing various proposed remedies.

Related links

Flood insurance rates will skyrocket
Monarch Towers now in FEMA’s Coastal High Hazard Flood 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
The morning after Sandy: Hoboken’s waterfront parks
Sandy, the day after – Hoboken waterfront pics
The Long Slip Canal and protecting Hoboken from the next surge

Post-Sandy Resources

The Big Uneasy
Maps
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