The estimated cost to implement OMA’s Rebuild by Design flood and storm protection project for Hoboken is a staggering sum: between $200 and $300 million. But the federal commitment to this program, initiated by the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), could be as much as $4 billion. The Hoboken project, however, must make the final cut in April after a review by a jury of experts. Last August, this jury selected the ten teams that are now working to develop model programs in communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy, from the Jersey Shore up to Bridgeport, Connecticut. The teams are currently finishing up their work to compete in this final round.
OMA has headed up the team working on the project entitled Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge: a comprehensive strategy for Hoboken. OMA is the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas is one of the founders of OMA. Other team members are a Dutch engineering firm, Royal HaskoningDHV; a New York City-based urban design and landscape architecture firm, Balmori Associates; a real estate and economic development consulting firm, HR&A; plus the branding and design consultants, 2×4.
For Hoboken, the funding issue is of great concern. Mayor Zimmer has accused Governor Chris Christie of short-changing Hoboken on Sandy-relief funds because of her refusal to support a Rockefeller Group development project in north Hoboken, an issue that has sparked national media attention. The State of New Jersey has also been criticized for grossly mismanaging the distribution of Sandy-relief funds. Total funds available fall far short of what is needed to provide relief and long-term preventive measures. So the substantial funding coming directly from the federal government may be Hoboken’s only opportunity to receive sufficient funds to provide a long-term solution for its recurring flooding woes.
Hoboken is a densely populated urban waterfront community. Floodwaters from Superstorm Sandy did not impact most of Hoboken at the water’s edge due to its higher elevations. But the surge entered town at the lower elevations at its north and south ends. The floodwaters then filled up the town like a bathtub all the way to its western border along the Palisades Cliffs putting about 75 percent of the city under water. The tide receded quickly but the floodwaters, having no means of escape, remained in Hoboken for days stranding much of its population without access to emergency services, without power and without transportation. The damage resulted from floodwaters filling up basements and ground floors, but not from the wave action from the surge that devastated homes along so many other coastal communities.
In its approach, the OMA team has combined both hard and soft infrastructure. To store stormwater, the plan calls for using the New Jersey Transit property at the Hoboken-Jersey City border plus the Hudson Bergen Light Rail right-of-way that extends the length of Hoboken’s western border at the base of the Palisades to construct a series of wetlands, basins & ponds and cisterns. Future green space would include bioretention basins connected by swales that would allow for the filtration and storage of stormwater. Green roofs, of course, would be an integral part of the system to delay water runoff.
A series of bulkheads, levees, revetments, floodwalls and vegetated terracing along the shoreline would serve as a barrier against future surges. A deployable floodwall would provide an additional layer of protection. The sewer system and pumps would serve to discharge the floodwaters. There is an existing pumping station at the south end of town on Observer Highway and other at 11th Street that the North Hudson Sewerage Authority has proposed to rebuild at a cost of $11.2 million. The OMA plan calls for a third pump around 16th Street at the far north end of town at the site of a proposed, additional light rail station.
Portions of Hoboken’s antiquated sewer system are still comprised of the original redwood sewer pipes. It is a combined sewer and stormwater system. During Sandy and for other flooding events, Hoboken homeowners have complained of sewerage backing up through floor drains. There are many questions about why the sewer system fails during storms. The information released by the OMA team thus far has not detailed how their comprehensive plan relates to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority system and what impact the new pump would have at the north end of town.