On Friday September 4, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) released its Draft Scoping Document for the Hudson River Rebuild by Design project. This comprehensive flood mitigation program encompasses Hoboken, a portion of Weehawken to the north and a sliver of Jersey City to the south. The deadline for commenting on this document is October 9 and there will be a public scoping meeting on September 24, giving everyone an opportunity to respond, helping to shape the future development of this critical flood mitigation program.
According to the document, HUD’s $230 million block grant for this project will only cover Phase 1 based on a HUD directive from last October. The funds will be utilized for the feasibility, design and environmental analysis of the comprehensive Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge project. The implementation will give priority to the “Resist” component which consists of coastal barriers such as bulkheads, seawalls, berms and levees that would serve to avert future surges like Superstorm Sandy. The “Delay, Store and Discharge” portions of the project will be the focus of subsequent phases, assuming funding is available.
The Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) will be submitting comments on the Draft Scoping Document and encouraging others to do so as well. Here are some preliminary items that we are exploring:
- What is the basis of giving priority in Phase 1 to the “Resist” part? Does it not make sense to decide about what to implement after the analysis of the entire program has been completed? Does this mean that the entire $160 million for hard infrastructure costs will be spent on seawalls, revetments, berms and similar coastal barriers? Do we know that this is an accurate number to build this? This would only provide protection against future surges even though a Sandy-type surge was an exceedingly rare event.
- What about providing some relief to major rainfall events in Phase 1? Once all the analysis and evaluation is complete, perhaps there will be some less expensive items that could ensure that storm-waters are removed expeditiously, thus protecting the 66% of property owners/residents in FEMA’s flood hazard zones, especially those in “flooding hotspots.” Also, has any funding been committed to Phase 2?
- What grants are covering other aspects of flood mitigation in the target area? For example, the Federal Transportation Administration awarded a $146 million grant to New Jersey Transit to protect the Hoboken Train Terminal and railyard from future flooding. Will this help pay for required seawalls at the south portion of the target area? How is this being coordinated with the Rebuild by Design project? What about the Hoboken PATH station? What funds are the Port Authority dedicating to protecting this important asset?
HUD’s Rebuild by Design program was born after Superstorm Sandy engendered unprecedented flooding and destruction along the New York-New Jersey coast in October 2012. Originally, Rebuild by Design was a competition bringing 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, HUD selected the team headed by the Dutch firm OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) as one of the ten finalists in the competition. Ultimately, HUD picked one of the OMA team’s projects originally entitled Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge: a comprehensive strategy for Hoboken to be awarded the $230 million Community Development Disaster Recovery Block Grant.
Reviewing the Draft Scoping Document can be a daunting task for the layperson. It is filled with acronyms, a complicated process and a bewildering array of federal, state and local requirements. But public review and input are also essential components. A Citizen Advisory Group (thus the acronym CAG) has been formed and is meeting regularly to provide oversight and encourage public involvement. One of the members of the Citizen Advisory Group, an environmental planner, advised the group to make sure the needs and purpose sections of the document be written correctly. I was selected to serve on this committee.