Summary of Proceedings of the NY-NJ-LI Storm Surge Barrier Conference

Marriott Downtown Hotel, New York May 18, 2017

On May 18, 2017, the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure (NICHI) and the Metro New York-New Jersey Storm Surge Working Group (SSWG) convened a day-long conference, “Keeping the Water Out and the Lights On” at the Marriott Downtown Hotel in Lower Manhattan.

The conference co-sponsors included the Port Authority of NY & NJ, Regional Plan Association, New Jersey Future, The Waterfront Alliance, Cameron Engineering and Associates, Chelsea Piers, Waterside Plaza, Manhattan Borough President, The Alliance for Downtown New York, the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, Stony Brook University, Columbia University, and Society for American Military Engineers, Howard Hughes Corp., Standard and Poors, Goldman Sachs and others.

The conference focused on the urgent need to investigate the role that a regional system of movable surge barriers could play in creating layered defense to protect the metropolitan area from storm surges and sea level rise. This system would be designed to work in tandem with planned local barriers and other strategies.

Over 230 registered delegates attended this one-day conference, including representatives from both states, the City of New York and other municipalities, federal, state and local elected officials, and executives from the Port Authority, US Army Corps of Engineers, RPA, and the Waterfront Alliance, and business, civic and government groups.

The purpose of the meeting was to educate and inform invited participants about the need to study a regional storm surge barrier system that would transcend geographical and political boundaries to protect northern NJ, NYC, and western and central LI for the next 100-150 years in an era of climate change and rising sea levels.

Delegates explored the issues surrounding the concept, effectiveness, location, design, permitting, financing, construction, operation and maintenance of such a barrier system. Representatives from other cities that already have surge barrier systems, including London, Rotterdam, New Orleans and Stamford, CT discussed the effectiveness of these systems in preventing flooding in these places.

A Port Authority representative detailed the disastrous impacts that future storm surges could have on the region’s airports, tunnels and transit systems if effective measures are not taken to address this need. And presentations were also given on the ways that a well-designed surge barrier system could be managed to improve water quality on Long Island Sound, the East River and New York Harbor.

Executives from Goldman Sachs, Standard & Poors, and Swiss Re Insurance discussed how these systems could be financed, how credit ratings could be improved for companies protected by these systems, and how the broader economic benefits of these systems could be estimated.

Finally, a Netherlands Government representative discussed how the entire population center of that country has been protected by fixed and movable barrier systems, by effectively “shortening” the extent of coastline needing protection.

Keynote speakers included:

  • Bill Golden, President, National Institute for Coastal & Harbor Infrastructure;
  • Malcolm Bowman, Distinguished Professor of Oceanography,
  • Stony Brook University and Chair SSWG;
  • Bob Yaro, Professor of Planning, University of Pennsylvania and PresidentEmeritus, Regional Plan Association;
  • Laline Cavalho, TITLE, Standard & Poors;
  • Megan Linkin, TITLE, Swiss Re Insurance;
  • Andrew Kopplin, President, Greater New Orleans Foundation;
  • Marvin Markus, TITLE, Goldman Sachs;
  • Dale Morris, TITLE, Dutch Embassy;
  • Rob Freudenberg, Vice President, Regional Plan Association; and
  • Andrew Lynn, Director of Planning and Regional Development, PortAuthority of NY and NJ.OutcomesA wide consensus was reached that the US Army Corps of Engineers should include consideration of a regional storm surge barrier system in their NY/NJ Harbor & Tributaries Focus Areas Study, which is currently in the scoping phase.

This system would be an integral part of a “layered defense” strategy for the region to address the twin concerns of sea level rise and storm surges. Through this approach two complementary systems would be developed:

  • A more modest local seawall network (up to 6 ft in height) around both the region’s low lying shoreline in New York City and other communities located on both sides of the Hudson River and SW Long Island to withstand slow, gentle but persistent sea level rise for the next century.
  • Large oceanic storm surge barriers, located well away from dense urban coastal development to hold back the occasional acute, but potentially devastating storm surges associated with hurricanes and winter nor’easters.
  • Four elements of this system would be built: 1) a primary movable barrier stretching from Breezy Point in the Rockaways to the Northern tip of Sandy Hook; 2) a system of naturalized berms or dikes to be built along the length of both of these peninsulas; 3) a secondary movable barrier across the northern end of the East River near the Throgs Neck Bridge; and 4) smaller movable barriers across the inlets on Long Island’s southern barrier islands to protect Long Island’s flood-prone South Shore communities.

At the end of the conference, participants broke into four working groups:

  • Marine Science, Environmental Protection and Engineering Design Working Group; • Economics, Finance, Insurance and Cost Benefit Analysis Working Group;
  • Land Use Planning and Real Estate Working Group; and
  • Community Values and Social Justice Working Group.

Each working group will focus on specific issues that must be addressed if this layered defense system is to be built. These groups are expected to work in tandem in the years ahead to ensure that these issues are properly addressed in the design of the region’s layered coastal flood defense system.

This system will protect and maintain Metropolitan NJ-NY-LI as a safe, secure and thriving world center of finance, urban innovation, transportation, science, medicine, history, culture and recreation well into the next century.

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