One woman looked visibly flustered at a presentation this week of various ways Hoboken can handle storm surges and flooding.
“I’m concerned because every concept seems to block the view…everything beautiful about Hoboken comes from the openness,” Laura Edelman told the Hoboken Reporter later.
Edelman, who has lived at the Hudson Tea Building for the last three years, pointed at a white board incredulously.
These “seawalls” would run along Sinatra Drive and Weehawken Cove in the majority of the current concepts, making the views considerably harder for residents at ground level in.
Edelman was one of nearly 200 attending a public meeting on Thursday to discuss five potential concepts for the $230 million “Rebuild by Design Hudson River: Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge” resiliency project for Hoboken, Weehawken, and Jersey City. The money will come from the federal government.
How do you defend the coastal cities from Superstorm Sandy-level devastation? Dewberry Engineers thinks they have the answer: sea walls.
The public was able to hear and give feedback on the concepts drawn up by Dewberry, whom the city contracted, at the meeting at Wallace Elementary School.
The meeting followed another held in late September to discuss the project’s scoping portion: its feasibility, design, and environmental analysis.
In 2013, a year after Hurricane Sandy, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched the Rebuild by Design competition to spur novel ways to fend off future rainstorms.
“There may be retractable walls but anything that is proposed on the water is hugely expensive, very challenging to permit and takes much longer to complete.” – Kerry Kirk Pflugh
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates it will take three and a half years to complete the project.
Under federal law, HUD must obligate all of the $230 million to New Jersey by September 2017 with the current date for completion of new infrastructure set for 2022.
Similar to past meetings, boards were laid out throughout the school gymnasium with graphics breaking down each concept and a timeline of other elements that will eventually come into play.
After an introduction and basic rundown of each of the concepts (A-E), the public broke out into groups and sat in a circle at various tables as Dewberry senior planners rotated around to explain each concept’s pros and cons.
After hearing residents’ concerns, Mayor Dawn Zimmer told the Reporter, “That’s the feedback we want to hear from people. We want to know they’re considering the five options. We want to preserve access to the waterfront…but that’s part of the process. Some people are going to like some concepts, others not so much. We need to hear feedback so we know the ones they support.”
Walls for waves
The engineers proposed sea walls at the northern and southern borders of the city in all five of the tentative concepts. No word yet what the walls will be made of, but they aim to assimilate with their surroundings as berms, raised paths, vertical walls, stone embankments, and concrete beams that may double as parks or waterfront walkways.
Planners describe Concept A as the “least costly resist barrier which provides the least coastal storm surge risk reduction benefits to the [area].”
Concept B protects Weehawken and the north waterfront substantially with approximately 98 percent flood risk reduction benefits for those in the study area, compared to Concept A’s 86 percent.
Concept C is the most expensive but provides protection for 99 percent of those in the study area, significantly reducing flood risk for the Hoboken Terminal as well as other vital arteries around town.
Concept D similarly provides hefty protection but, unlike Concept C, does not include free-standing, in-water revetments, which are retaining walls that support ramparts.
Concept E mainly focuses its efforts to the south with “partial flood reduction benefits” to the north, taking into consideration the north waterfront boathouse.
The various concepts have floodwalls, berms, revetments, and T-walls as high as 18 feet. However, the height depends whether the final plan will seek to address the potential shift of the flood plain in the next 100 or 500 years.
Details and renderings of each of the concepts are available at www.state.nj.us/dep/floodhazard.
“[Instead of sea walls on the waterfront], why can’t they build retractable walls in the water?” Laura Edelman said.
DEP Manager of Constituent Services Kerry Kirk Pflugh later explained, “There may be retractable walls, but anything that is proposed on the water is hugely expensive, very challenging to permit, and takes much longer to complete.”
While the “Resist” portion of the overall project has yet to be decided, with public comments being accepted through Dec. 31, the “Delay, Store and Discharge” is the same across the board.
Planners say the three-part component “aims to maximize the potential to capture, store, infiltrate, evaporate, and release storm water.”
Down the line, the project planners will narrow the five concepts down into three, before choosing a final concept and moving onto analyzing each of the plans. Dewberry officials have said in the past that were a plan not to have sufficient funds, the project may be undertaken in a staged approach, and additional funding would have to be sought. They stressed that it is too early in the process to tell.
How neighboring cities factor in
Susan O’Kane, a Weehawken resident who lived in Hoboken for almost two decades starting in the late 1970s, was homeless for three months following Hurricane Sandy, she said. She had lived in The Shades section of Weehawken, which received about five feet of flooding.
“I’m worried over whether we’ll have 86 percent protection or in the 90 [percentile],” said O’Kane at the meeting, referring to the differentiation between plans.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner attended the meeting and told the Reporter, “Our problems are much simpler. The [plan’s] impact in Weehawken doesn’t go through any residential neighborhoods. If they build a flood wall it would provide two positives: protect the area of The Shades and protect the North Hudson Sewage plant.”
Turner said the plant, a $400 million operation that services Union City, Weehawken and Hoboken, came within inches of serious damage during Superstorm Sandy.
Three upcoming drop-in meetings will be held: Dec. 14 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Hoboken Historical Museum, 1301 Hudson St., Dec. 15 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at St. Lawrence Church’s Community Room, 22 Hackensack Ave. in Weehawken, and Dec. 17 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Hoboken Housing Authority Senior Building, 221 Jackson St.
Thus far, Mayor Zimmer said, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has been represented at public meetings through two delegates, but it was mainly Hoboken residents who came out.
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.