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See Walls: Army Corps’ Citywide Coastal Storm Plan Takes Shape, Steals Views

A series of renderings offer a glimpse at a proposal that could be what a resiliency expert called “the largest transformation of our waterfront since the Robert Moses era.”

January 30, 2023 Samantha Maldonado and Stephon Johnson, The City
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Picture this: a concrete wall obscures Christopher Street Pier when looking west over the Hudson River. It’s one element of a six-mile-long necklace of levees, barriers, gates and sea walls stretching from Hudson Yards to Battery Park to guard against coastal storms and devastating flooding.

That’s all part of a $52 billion project proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect the New York City region. The various projects could be finalized  over the next few years.

A new series of renderings from the Army Corps offers a glimpse at what some of those dramatic projects could look like around New York City: near Flushing Bay in Queens, at Greenpoint Public Park and Coney Island in Brooklyn, among other places.

“To the extent that anybody is shocked by any of these renderings, we certainly can understand,” said Bryce Wisemiller, the Army Corps’ New York district project manager. “But this is a starting point that can only get better from here.”

Officials say local feedback is of paramount importance in order to shape the plan, which the Army Corps has been at work on since 2016 and is now presenting in detail throughout the region. The public may ask questions and offer opinions at a series of public meetings hosted by the Army Corps over the next month.

“You live in these neighborhoods, you play and work in these neighborhoods, so you are the experts in these areas, and so your feedback is super important,” said Cherry Mui, a senior policy advisor in the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice.

The Army Corps is accepting comments on the plan through March 7 — a two-month extension from the original period. Rebuild By Design and the National Parks Conservation Association next month will hold a workshop on how to write those comments effectively.

If officials in the city, the state and New Jersey approve the plan — and Congress signs off and allocates funding — construction could begin as soon as 2030, with the date of full completion by 2044.

“This proposes the largest transformation of our waterfront since the Robert Moses era,” said Kate Boicourt, director of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund’s New York-New Jersey climate resilient coasts and watersheds program.

‘I Don’t Care if It’s Aesthetically Pleasing’

Along the Hudson River Greenway bordering the West Village on Wednesday, designer Jihé Lee, 33, was walking her dog as she considered the proposed floodwall for the area.

“It’s not something that you see, and then one day it’s here. It’s kind of hard to accept as a resident in the city,” Lee said. Still, given water levels rising and global warming, “I think it is something that has to be done.”

Steve Carl, 32, who works in sales and lives nearby, expressed a similar viewpoint while on a walk.

“If it would help protect the city, it would be all right. If it’s a life-or-death situation, I don’t care if it’s aesthetically pleasing,” he said.

In East Harlem, pediatrician Aimee Parow paused her daily run along the Harlem River to contemplate what’s proposed there: Nearly five miles of floodwalls, sea walls, flood barriers and other protective measures would run along the Upper Manhattan shore between Manhattan and the South Bronx. Part of the plan envisions elevated promenades near E. 106th Street and E. 145th Street.

Aimee Parow looks over the Harlem River along the Bobby Wagner Walk.
Aimee Parow looks over the Harlem River along the Bobby Wagner Walk. | Stephon Johnson/THE CITY

“Certainly something needs to be done,” she said. “I feel like we’re at a point where a sea wall, to me, sounds like a band-aid on a much bigger problem.”

Parow said she’s noticed crumbling segments of her running route, and wondered if the measures proposed would provide a fix.

Councilmember Erik Bottcher, a Democrat whose Manhattan district would field some of the projects, noted, “I think most people would agree that building a 20-foot-tall wall in front of the Hudson River is not a realistic solution. If nothing else, these renderings illustrate how serious the problem is and how elusive the solutions are.”

Natural Solutions?

Elsewhere in the city, the Army Corps has envisioned other on-shore projects.

Another floodwall would stretch from Kent Street in Greenpoint along the East River to connect with a storm surge gate across Newtown Creek. Similar walls are proposed in Manhattan Beach and Red Hook. In Coney Island, the boardwalk would be elevated and connected to a sea wall and floodwall that wraps around the peninsula, to tie in with a tide gate across Coney Island Creek.

And offshore, the Army Corps proposed 12 storm gates spanning water bodies — like Newtown Creek, Jamaica Bay and the Gowanus Canal — that would close to prevent flooding during storm surges.

Army Corps officials have emphasized the proposed projects — which are easily perused through this interactive map — are “preliminary” and “conceptual.”

A rendering of a proposed elevated promenade along the Harlem River around East 106th Street. The promenade would be publicly accessible and feature rocks on the shore side to prevent erosion.
A rendering of a proposed elevated promenade along the Harlem River around East 106th Street. The promenade would be publicly accessible and feature rocks on the shore side to prevent erosion. | Army Corps of Engineers

“Everything’s still on the table with regards to changing things,” said Col. Matthew Luzzatto, commander of the Army’s New York District Corps of Engineers. “Now’s the time we can still make changes overall to the project.”

Such changes could include incorporating more natural solutions, such as marsh or oyster restoration, into the constructed projects.

“These [nature-based features] have many of the similar benefits, but they also can tend to be used to reduce erosion and wave action,” said Pippa Brashear, resilience principal and partner at SCAPE Landscape Architecture. “It can help reduce the height of onshore features and, related to that, often the cost and help preserve the natural shorelines that we already have.”

The Army Corps could also develop interventions that would protect communities currently left out of the proposal area. In the event that the city, New York state or New Jersey officials reject the Army Corps’ plan, they could propose a different one for the feds to carry out.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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