The New York Times had this article up on their homepage at littler earlier in the day claiming that the American Society of Civil Engineers “warned” New Yorkers about the dangers of a hurricane like Sandy and had suggested options to prevent the subsequent flooding. The opener:
As the authorities examine how they can protect New York City from extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, one of the nation’s most influential groups of engineers is pointing out that more than three years ago, it presented detailed warnings that a devastating storm surge in the region was all but inevitable.
The warnings were voiced at a seminar in New York City convened by the American Society of Civil Engineers, whose findings are so respected that they are often written into building codes around the world. Corporate, academic and government engineers at the meeting presented computer simulations of the storm-surge threat and detailed engineering designs of measures to counter it.
Officials from the city’s Office of Emergency Management and the United States Army Corps of Engineers took part in the seminar, serving on review panels or giving talks.
As for the “detailed engineering designs of measures to counter it,” the society recommended building sea walls. The seminar was even titled, “Against the Deluge: Storm Surge Barriers to Protect New York City.”
Now, what today’s NYT piece does not do — and it’s a glaring omission — is any type of reporting on what would actually happen to NYC if such a storm barrier were constructed.
To find that answer, a reader would have to comb through the Times’ archives. And this exhaustive search would lead to this op-ed, published yesterday: “Deciding Where Future Disasters Will Strike.”
McKenzie Funk argues in yesterday’s op-ed that any storm barrier built to protect New York City would, in fact, only protect the richest areas of the city and would make the flooding worse in the poorer neighborhoods:
The engineers in the room did not shy away from the hard truth that areas outside a Narrows barrier could see an estimated two feet of extra flooding. If a wave rebounding off the new landmark hits a wave barreling toward it, it could make for a bigger wave of the sort that neighborhoods like Arrochar and Midland Beach on Staten Island and Bath Beach and Gravesend in Brooklyn may want to start fretting about.
[. . .]
Some people, inevitably richer people, will be on the right side of these walls. Other people will not be — and that we might find it increasingly convenient to lose all sight of them is the change I fear the most. This is not an argument against saving New York from the next hurricane. It is, however, an argument for a response to this one that is much broader than the Narrows.
Maybe today’s NYT piece should offer a correction and admit that the places where NYC is flooded and lacking adequate relief would be even worse off if Bloomberg has listened to the “warning?”
And as for this ominous warning, the ASCE delivered in 2009, again we turn to Mr. Funk, who actually attended the conference as a journalist:
I think I was the only journalist who witnessed the March 2009 unveiling of some of the first proposed sea-wall designs. “Against the Deluge: Storm Surge Barriers to Protect New York City” was a conference held at N.Y.U.’s Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, and it had the sad air of what was then an entirely lost cause. There was a single paying exhibitor — “Please visit our exhibitor,” implored the organizers — whose invention, FloodBreak, was an ingenious, self-deploying floodgate big enough to protect a garage but not at all big enough to protect Manhattan. When we lined up for the included dinner, which consisted of cold spaghetti, the man waved fliers at the passing engineers. But as I look back over my notes, I can see how prescient the conference was. A phrase I frequently scrawled is “Breezy Point.”
It’s not much of a warning if you can only convince one journalist to show up to your event.