On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit the New York-New Jersey region head-on causing unprecedented devastation. Five weeks later, President Obama created the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, appointing his HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan as Chair. Secretary Donovan brought in Dutch expert Henk Ovink as his senior advisor for the task force. Soon after, the Rebuild by Design competition was born seeking to bring together multidisciplinary teams of engineers, designers, planners, government officials and researchers in a collaborative process to formulate innovative solutions to the threat of future flooding.
On August 9, 2013, a jury of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force selected the team headed up by the Dutch firm OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) as one of the ten finalists. One of the OMA team’s projects was entitled Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge: a comprehensive strategy for Hoboken. In March 2014, the jury selected the Hoboken-area project for implementation, awarding it a $230 million Community Development Disaster Recovery Block Grant.
By April 2015, HUD approved New Jersey’s Action Plan Amendment Number 12 that will allow the release of the $230 million in funding. The funds, however, will not go to the local municipalities. The New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) will design and implement the program. It will also administer the funds, awarding and managing all contracts. Final decisions for this project will be made by the NJDEP Commissioner. An Executive Steering Committee that includes the mayors of Hoboken, Weehawken and Jersey City, NJ Transit and the North Hudson Sewerage Authority will be relegated to an advisory role.
The relationship between the Hoboken Mayor and Governor Christie and members of his administration was fractured when she alleged that they threatened to withhold Sandy aid if she did not support a development project in Hoboken that they favored. Earlier this month, Federal investigators terminated their investigation into the mayor’s allegations, concluding that there was no collaborating evidence to support her claims. This could create a problem for the Hoboken project given the governor’s penchant for dealing harshly with those who have the temerity to challenge him.
The actual construction of the flood prevention measures is not scheduled to begin for another four years, in 2019. First, the state will undertake a 3-year planning/feasibility component ($18 million) and a 4-year design/predevelopment component ($52 million), leaving $160 million for hard construction costs. The estimated completion date is 2022 but typically these massive construction projects take longer. In the meantime, nearly 75% of Hoboken resides within FEMA’s designated flood hazard areas and those residents and owners will remain at risk until effective flood prevention measures can be built.
Apart from the HUD funds, the Federal Transportation Administration provided a $146 million grant to New Jersey Transit to be used at the Hoboken Train Terminal. Part of these funds will be used for filling the Long Slip Canal south of the train tracks that was a conduit at the south end of town for the surge during Superstorm Sandy, responsible for much of the flooding that reached the far western border of Hoboken at the base of the Palisades Cliffs. The City of Hoboken has also received a number of smaller grants that will pay for other resiliency measures. The North Hudson Sewerage Authority is also undertaking the reconstruction of a flood pump at Eleventh and Hudson Streets in Hoboken that will provide a relief for flooding at the north end of town.
The State’s Action Plan also requires a robust community and stakeholder outreach process throughout this multi-year effort. On April 13, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer reached out to about 30 people requesting that they serve on the Rebuild by Design Citizens Advisory Group. She has asked Carter Craft of the Hoboken Cove Community Boat House and Helen Manogue of the Quality of Life Coalition and the Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy to serve as co-chairs. During the development of the Rebuild by Design project in Hoboken, the opportunities for public participation were severely limited. There were no actual public hearings on the project until last January 20 when the state got involved. The state’s proposed advisory structure, however, does not show a role for the Rebuild by Design Citizens Advisory Group.
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. This team may have no future role in the project unless granted a contract by the NJDEP.