Five Years Post Superstorm Sandy, where do At-Risk Areas in New York Stand?

It has already been five years since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on New York City and Long Island. Although New York and many other states along the Atlantic coast have bounced back from Sandy’s devastation — which required a total federal aid package of $50.5 billion — there is still a lot of work to be done. This anniversary marks an important opportunity to examine where New York stands five years after Sandy, what work needs to be done, and most importantly, how prepared we are for the next major tropical storm.

Superstorm sandy arrived, unpredicted, from the Caribbean to New York Harbor on October 22, 2012 at high tide. The storm blasted New York City and Long Island causing 2 million people and 418,000 homes and businesses to lose power while putting almost half a million city dwellers underwater. One of the biggest storm systems in Atlantic Ocean history, Sandy caused the Empire State $32 billion in damages, ranging from flooded subway tunnels, washed away beaches, the leaking of 10 billion gallons of garbage, oil, and sewage into the ocean, and damaged electric power plants including Con-Edison gas, steam, and power plant. Ultimately, Sandy was an economic, environmental, and social disaster for five boroughs of New York City and coastal towns on Long Island.

Immediately following Sandy and New York’s acquisition of $8.7 billion in federal aid, numerous government programs sprung up throughout New York City and Long Island with a focus on homeowner recovery programs, buyouts and acquisitions, interim mortgage assistance, and community reconstruction. Among the some of the programs include the NY Rising Housing Recovery Program and NY Rising Community Restoration Program. The NY Rising Programs provide assistance to 124 communities that were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee through infrastructure developments, investments to public services related to storm recovery, and rehabilitation, reconstruction, and reimbursement assistance for residential property damaged as a result of the storm.

As of October 2017, through the efforts of NY rising, the Sandy Task Force, and the Build It Back Program which is aimed at helping New Yorkers rebuild their homes, reconstruction on residential homes and businesses is nearing completion in New York City and in Long Island.

However, planning in advance will be essential for the resiliency and safety of New York City, Long Island, and residents of both. Regardless of the implementation of the many effective programs that have helped to restore areas damaged by Sandy, the looming presence of future tropical storms and the projected impact of climate change needs to be at the forefront of discussions

Scientists predict sea levels to rise by two feet as a result of climate change which would put over 10,000 New York homes underwater and cause unprecedented damage to New York City and coastal cities all around the world. Because of New York City’s unique geography, groups have formed in support of floodgates, levees, and physical barriers to prevent flooding in the city. Bill Golden, president of the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure, which advocates for an expanded federal role in coastal climate adaptation, suggests adding a barrier below the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to block the Atlantic Ocean from pushing into the harbor, and another designated to stop Long Island Sound from surging south of the East River. Another major proposition for a physical structure to prevent flooding has been a plan known as “the Big U” which would involve berms and walls along the edges of Manhattan from the Battery up to Midtown.

On a governmental level, the City Council voted Monday to create a committee to study NYC’s recovery from Sandy in the five years since it happened. The committee is composed of 15 members who will evaluate resiliency progress and make recommendations for how the City could do better in the future. Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Bensonhurst), chairman of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, commented that the task force will set a precedent for the blueprints that communities across the country can use to be better prepared and resilient in the case of an extreme weather event. Members of the panel will be appointed by the City Council and Mayor de Blasio.

Other methods of resiliency being implemented are categorized by the city as projects in coastal defense, critical infrastructure, social and economic resiliency, and building upgrades. Daniel Zarrilli, New York City’s chief resilience officer who oversees these projects said that: “we’re in the middle timeframe where we are now building a lot of things. But we continue to get safer every day with the projects we do finish and continue to move forward with every bit of urgency that we can bring to this.” Zarrilli is referring to already completed projects such as a 5.5 mile storm-hardened Rockaway Boardwalk, ongoing construction on wetlands renewal projects in Midland beach, and other parks that are levees designed as parks on the Lower East Side.

So far New York has invested $23 billion into resiliency projects throughout the state, and is continuing to discover new solutions to prevent another disaster like Superstorm Sandy.

At the League we are pleased with where New York stands five years post Superstorm Sandy, however, we strongly believe that much more must be done to protect our coastal areas from the effects of climate change in the coming years.