Bloomberg unveils initiative to protect New York City from climate change

·William Holt

Citing the perils of climate change and the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday called for a sweeping $19.5 billion initiative that would include new coastal protections and zoning codes for the city as well as new standards for telecommunications and fuel provision.

“I strongly believe we have to prepare for what scientists say is a likely scenario,” Bloomberg said at a press briefing at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The initiative followed the release of a 400-page report titled “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” The report was produced by the mayor’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, launched after Sandy to assess the impacts of climate change on the nation’s largest city.

Sandy, which took the lives of 43 New Yorkers and displaced countless others when it struck last October, cost the city an estimated $19 billion in damage and economic loss. The hurricane brought a record 14-foot storm surge to lower Manhattan, while it devastated homes and businesses in neighborhoods from the Rockaways to Staten Island, where many are still recovering.

“As bad as Sandy was, future storms could be even worse,” Bloomberg warned. “In fact, because of rising temperatures and sea levels, even a storm that’s not as large as Sandy could, down the road, be even more destructive.”

The new initiative marks a significant update of PlaNYC, Bloomberg’s major sustainability effort begun in 2007 to meet the challenges created by climate change as well as New York’s growing population and aging infrastructure.

In his speech, the mayor cited heat waves, drought and the rising sea level as significant challenges for the New York going forward.

“Our city will be much more vulnerable to flooding in the years ahead,” said Bloomberg. “If we do nothing more, 40 miles of our waterfront could see flooding on a regular basis.”

According to the report, more than 800,000 residents are likely to live in the city’s hundred-year flood plain by the 2050s—more than double the number currently at risk. The hundred-year flood plain comprises those parts of the city that have a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year.

Some of the coastal protections proposed by the initiative include new dune protections and wider beaches for vulnerable areas as well as a series of surge barriers and restored natural wetlands to lessen the impact of waves on the shore.

The mayor said measures are currently being taken to protect those areas in South Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island with the cooperation of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The mayor also promised to lobby for partial rate reductions for flood insurance and said he would work with telecommunications and fuel providers to prevent future blackouts and breaks in supply chains.

“This is New York City,” he said. “We’ve always turned challenges into opportunities. Sandy was a temporary setback that can ultimately propel us forward, if we think big and seize the moment.”

Of the $19.5 billion in estimated costs, the mayor said that approximately $10 billion in city capital funding and federal relief has already been allocated, while another $5 billion has recently been appropriated by Congress as part of a Sandy relief package. Bloomberg said he would “press the federal government to cover as much of the remaining costs as possible.”

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