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Press Release

NYCEDC And The Mayor's Office of Recovery And Resiliency Release Southern Manhattan Coastal Protection Study: Evaluating The Feasibility Of a Multi-Purpose Levee

May 22 2014

Study Originally Called for in “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” Examines Feasibility of Engineering, Environmental, and Financial Elements of an Ambitious Coastal Protection Strategy

City Will Engage Southern Manhattan Communities in Coming Weeks to Gain Feedback Based on Improved Understanding of Challenges and Risks

NEW YORK, NY—New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR) today released the Southern Manhattan Coastal Protection Study: Evaluating the Feasibility of a Multi-Purpose Levee, a study first recommended in the 2013 report “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” as one of 257 initiatives to protect New York City against climate change and extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. The study focused on the feasibility of the project in an approximately 1.3-mile span of the eastern edge of Southern Manhattan, from the Battery Maritime Building in the Financial District to Pier 35 on the Lower East Side, and included complementary coastal protection measures adjacent to the potential multi-purpose levee on the East and West sides of Southern Manhattan. Hurricane Sandy exposed Southern Manhattan as among the the neighborhoods most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and research indicates that the combined effects of sea level rise and 100-year storm tide could exceed the reliability of traditional solutions, propelling the exploration of new coastal resiliency measures to prepare for the future.

The study has found that a multi-purpose levee would be technically, legally, and financially feasible in this area, and would require a number of additional engineering, environmental, and infrastructure planning analyses over the next several years to better understand its complex implications and advance the concept into full environmental review. The study identified a path forward on the project, which would take several decades to develop, in line with a growing climate change risk and also identified interim measures during this development period. In the coming weeks, the City will engage with local stakeholders and community residents to discuss the improved understanding of the challenges and risks facing the area yielded by the study, and gain feedback about pursuing future technical studies.

“Hurricane Sandy highlighted many of the City's vulnerabilities to coastal flooding and sea level rise. Vulnerable residents and critical infrastructure in Southern Manhattan were heavily impacted and suffered extensive damage. With a changing climate, these impacts could occur at greater frequency even with storms of lesser intensity if we don’t act,” said Daniel Zarrilli, Director of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency. “That’s why we will continue to explore ambitious coastal resiliency measures like multipurpose levees to reduce those future risks for residents and businesses across the city.”

“The Southern Manhattan Coastal Protection Study is an exploration of a bold concept that may hold promise to protect this vulnerable area from the increasing threats of storm events and the long-term effects of climate change for generations,” said NYCEDC President Kyle Kimball. “We remain committed to supporting the City’s efforts to safeguard communities across the boroughs from these risks.”

Later this century, the potential combined effects of storm tide and sea level rise could put Southern Manhattan (below 42nd street), where currently approximately 61,000 residents live within the 100-year floodplain, in an especially vulnerable position. More than half of that floodplain’s residents live in Chinatown and the Lower East Side in low- to moderate-income housing. Additionally, approximately 1,600 residential and commercial buildings, historic landmarks, hospitals, telecommunication facilities, subway stations and lines, power stations, and vehicular tunnels are also located within the 100-year floodplain.

Hurricane Sandy revealed the damaging impacts of severe flooding in this part of the city, where risk is increasing due to climate change. Sea level rise alone could flood areas behind the existing bulkhead by the century’s end and combined with the effects of a 100-year or 500-year storm, could produce flooding events that exceed thirteen feet above grade or more. The feasibility study examined several scenarios and found that while traditional solutions would not adequately protect New Yorkers that live and work in this area against such future risks, a multi-purpose levee concept could provide significant protection in a manner consistent with existing neighborhood character and density in Southern Manhattan.

“Hurricane Sandy painfully underscored New York’s vulnerability to extreme weather events, and our city is rightfully exploring a range of options to be better prepared, ” said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “We applaud the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency for evaluating the feasibility of the Multi-Purpose Levee and for advancing the goals of the ‘Stronger, More Resilient New York’ plan. New York City must be willing to think outside the box and not be afraid of bold ideas as we confront the effects of our changing climate.”

“I applaud Mayor Bill de Blasio for making sure New York City continues to lead the way in thinking boldly about climate change,” said Steve Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “The risks we face are complex and addressing them will span generations, but this study brings us a major step closer to understanding how one of the most dynamic and diverse urban communities in the world can adapt.”

Multi-purpose levees, which integrate passive levee infrastructure with residential, commercial, and open space, are a global best practice that combines reliable flood protection with sustainable urban development. Multi-purpose levees have been successfully implemented in flood-prone areas in the Netherlands, Japan and Singapore, among other countries, where –similar to the study area– there are particularly high vulnerabilities due to high population densities, concentration of economic activity, and the location of critical infrastructure systems.

This study was conducted over a six-month period by a team of engineering, design, legal, and economic development experts led by global engineering firm ARCADIS U.S. Inc., and is available here. It represents one of the many initiatives for Southern Manhattan outlined in “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” that strengthen coastal defenses, improve buildings, protect infrastructure, and make the neighborhoods of Southern Manhattan safer and more vibrant.

New York City Economic Development Corporation creates shared prosperity across New York City’s five boroughs by strengthening neighborhoods and creating good jobs. NYCEDC works with and for communities to provide them with the resources they need to thrive, and we invest in projects that increase sustainability, support job growth, develop talent, and spark innovation to strengthen the City’s competitive advantage. To learn more about our work and initiatives, please visit us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.