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New York’s Post-Sandy Climate Projects Still Unfinished

A decade after Hurricane Sandy, three of the city’s climate resiliency projects are nowhere near completion. The “Raised Shoreline” project has only spent 0.3 percent of its $103 million budget.

(TNS) — Three of the largest climate resiliency projects undertaken by New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are nowhere close to completion 10 years after the devastating storm — and a fourth initiative has been canceled altogether even as global warming threatens to exacerbate extreme weather events in the future.

One of the three ongoing post-Sandy projects is “Raised Shorelines,” which was rolled out by ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016 with an aim to elevate roadways and other infrastructure in low-lying neighborhoods wrecked by coastal flooding during the 2012 hurricane.

But as New Yorkers mark the 10th anniversary of Sandy this weekend, the city has only spent 0.3 percent of the Raised Shorelines program’s $103 million budget, according to an audit released this month by Comptroller Brad Lander’s office.

As a result, the Raised Shorelines constructions — which cover parts of Queens’ Howard Beach, Mott Basin and Norton Basin; Brooklyn’s Coney Island Creek, Gowanus Canal and Canarsie, as well as Manhattan’s East River Esplanade — aren’t expected to finish until June 2025, according to this year’s capital plan from Mayor Adams’ administration.

Key players are skeptical the administration will be able to even meet that deadline, pointing to Lander’s audit, which found that 95.8 percent of the Raised Shorelines project’s budget hasn’t been committed to this day.

“Clearly, we are not doing anywhere near enough,” Brooklyn Councilman Lincoln Restler said during a Council Resiliency and Waterfronts Committee hearing Wednesday that reviewed what the city has learned since Sandy.

According to Lander’s audit, the city has so far spent less than 75 percent of the $15 billion it received in total in Sandy-related resiliency grants from the federal government.

Adams has defended the pace of the city’s progress, though — both on his watch and under the administrations of de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg.

“Everything was not done perfect, but they were dedicated,” he said earlier this week of his predecessors. “What we need to wrap our heads around is the complexity of some of these projects. We’re not talking about just building a highway or just building a building or just building a wall. We’re going into unknown territory.”

Despite the unspent cash flagged by Lander, Adams demanded that a more reliable federal funding stream be adopted for resiliency projects — in New York City and throughout the rest of the country.

He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency should lift funding caps that are holding up some projects. He also called on the state to adopt further measures to allow for what’s known as “progressive design-build,” a process that’d allow the city to hire construction firms prior to the design phase of a project.

“It’s not the time for red tape or blue ribbon panels,” Adams said. “It’s time for New York City, New York State and America to get stuff done to prevent the next devastation.”

Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi suggested resiliency spending in the city has been slow because of the design process, which can take long and costs less than the construction phase.

“Design does occupy a large portion of the time period to get to the final built product, but it’s actually the cheapest part,” she said. “The heaviest spend part is at the end with construction. So as we get into construction, the pace of spending accelerates tremendously.”

Adams’ chief climate officer, Rit Aggarwala, said the administration expects construction to soon start on several of the outstanding Sandy projects examined by Lander’s audit.

“The largest portion of this money will be spent over the next two to three years, as we have several additional major projects that are now in construction,” he said.

One post-Sandy project that’s not about to enter construction, however, is Breezy Point Risk Mitigation.

The project was supposed to erect coastal flood protection barriers along the shoreline of Breezy Point, the residential neighborhood on the western tip of the Rockaway Peninsula that got crushed by Sandy, with flooding and fires leveling some 350 homes and damaging hundreds more.

But the de Blasio administration quietly disclosed in an August 2021 action plan that it had to terminate the Breezy Point project because it said it couldn’t be executed without violating the city’s waterfront access rules.

The project is still on hold, according to a city official, who said the Adams administration is now “looking” at it, but hasn’t committed to a path forward.

Another major project that has made little headway in the decade since Sandy is East Side Coastal Resiliency.

The enormous East Side project is supposed to provide 2.4 miles of coastal protection in Manhattan through a series of berms and walls stretching from E. 25th St. all the way down to Montgomery St.

The project, which broke ground in fall 2020, was initially supposed to be wrapped up by 2026. But Lander said in his audit that it likely won’t be completed until 2027 after he found that the city has only spent 13.3 percent of the initiative’s $1.9 billion budget.

The Hunts Point Resiliency project has similarly stalled.

The project would install solar panels and battery storage providing backup power for the PS 48 and MS 424 schools in the Bronx’s Hunts Point neighborhood — but Lander’s audit found only 6.3 percent of its $57.5 million budget has been spent so far.

Due to the incremental spending, Adams’ latest capital plan holds that the Hunts Point initiative isn’t expected to be completed until June 2030, nearly two decades after Sandy killed 44 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in property damage across the city.

As large-scale resiliency projects move at a snail’s pace, some stakeholders are calling for empowering community-based organizations as an alternative way to shore up the city’s disaster preparedness.

Urban Ocean Lab, a New York-based think tank, recently released a study finding that community groups played a critical role in the immediate aftermath of Sandy by distributing food, performing wellness checks and turning their physical spaces into emergency shelters.

“The community organizations were some of the first responders in the wake of Sandy, before government agencies got on the ground,” said Sheetal Shah, a researcher at the Urban Ocean Lab, whose study took input from a dozen community groups that worked on post-Sandy recovery efforts. “They were able to activate quickly because they are the ones that really understand their communities and understand their needs.”

The Urban Ocean Lab report, which was conducted with help from Lander’s office, listed off Brooklyn’s Red Hook Initiative as an example of the critical work community groups did after Sandy.

The neighborhood’s Red Hook Houses went without power, heat and running water for nearly three weeks due to Sandy — and RHI opened its doors for over 1,200 residents from the NYCHA complex to get hot meals, charge their cellphones, receive medical attention and obtain supplies, according to the report.

Shah said the city should put more resources behind expanding and improving initiatives like RIH, as they can fill in the gaps of government agencies’ rescue and recovery work.

“There are a few key things that all these organizations are missing out on — increased funding, more training to develop professional and dedicated staff as well as having a more effective community engagement process coordinated with the city,” she said. “There has been significant engagement, there just needs to be more.”

Peter Sikora, the climate campaign director for New York Communities for Change, is pushing for some resiliency-related funding to come from levying a tax on the wealthy. His group’s proposal is to charge the top 1 percent of earners in the state 5 percent, which he projects would raise $10 billion annually.

“The state needs to tax the rich in order to fund the upgrades that are needed to get out of fossil fuels and to prevent future climate disasters,” he said.

Another recent disaster, last year’s Hurricane Ida, wrecked havoc on the city in part because it moved so slowly, drenching neighborhoods in a concentrated downpour that, unlike Sandy, mostly impacted low-lying areas inland.

“Hurricane Ida last year reminded us that we cannot afford to make the mistake of fighting the last war. Sandy was a coastal inundation. Ida was a rainstorm,” Aggarwala said. “Going forward, the Adams administration will be pursuing an approach to climate resilience that is focused equally on all the risks that climate change brings.”

©2022 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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