Hoboken received long-awaited aid to help the area protect itself from hurricanes and flooding in the form of $230 million in “Rebuild by Design” funds from the federal government, released last week.
The funds will spur barriers and structures in Hoboken and parts of Weehawken and Jersey City.
This is just one way the city has been trying to protect itself after Hurricane Sandy caused over $1 billion in damage flooding residents’ homes five years ago, an event that trapped many in their homes and caused more than a week of power outages.
Rebuild By Design
The cost of Rebuild by Design is estimated between $230 million to $274 million and has an estimated annual maintenance cost of $1.4 million to $2.4 million. The four-pronged plan is set to begin construction in 2019 and be completed by 2022. The state Department of Environmental Protection will choose the builders and other developers.
The program was started in 2013 by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to protect coastal cities from storms, the effects of global warming, and rising sea levels.
Builders will erect a flood-resistance structure stretching from 19th Street in Weehawken into northern Hoboken, slightly inland from the river. An additional flood resistance structure will be constructed along the south end of town into Jersey City.
Zimmer said in an interview last week that she has already began asking the state to find funding to pay for maintenance costs.
The project will protect 85 percent of Hoboken’s residents in the floodplain. The city has hosted a workshop for residents who won’t be protected by the plan to discuss other ways to protect themselves, including deployable systems such as temporary barricades and moving utilities to higher ground.
“The threat is real,” said Zimmer. “We could be hit by another superstorm like Sandy and it could be in two weeks, it could be in a year, or it could be in six months. It’s important we continue to move forward and get this project done.”
Hoboken is also alleviating flooding through new resiliency parks, which will retain over a million gallons of water.
This includes the newly opened Southwest Park, and the yet to be constructed Northwest Park and Seventh and Jackson Street Park.
The city also has two flood pumps, H-1 and H-5, that discharge water into the Hudson River to help keep city streets dry and basements from flooding.
The city has also established more green space through rain gardens, and encourages green roofs on new developments.
The city also implemented “resilient building design guidelines” in Oct. 2015, in a 53-page document that outlines the city and state laws governing construction in Hoboken’s flood prone areas. It also details the approval process for repairs, improvements, and new construction.
Under the resilient building design guidelines, there are three categories of construction, two of which require a floodplain permits from the city.
Major repairs and renovations to a building – those costing more than 50 percent of assessed value — are considered substantial improvements and will need a floodplain permit. Many of the requirements that make a building flood resistant occur below a building’s Design Flood Elevation (DFE), usually found by adding the first one to three feet above the base flood elevation (BFE). BFE is determined by which flood zone the building is in, according to 2013 Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps.
As of 2013, no new residential units are allowed below whatever the DFE is in their zone, with some exceptions. Existing units can remain, but if substantial improvements are made, the property owner must adhere to the Resilient Building Design Guidelines.
So for example, if someone substantially rehabilitates a building with a basement level apartment, they can add an additional floor to their home to compensate for that no longer viable apartment.
Residences on lower floors such as garden or basement apartments may be insured under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) with some exceptions.
New commercial spaces below DFE must be dry flood proofed, and obtain a flood proofing certificate.
There are various zone restrictions on what kinds of construction and flood proofing methods people can use. For instance, water resistant and mold resistant materials are recommended.
The city will also undertake a microgrid feasibility study, which was approved by the Hoboken City Council this month. The study will determine if a micro grid in the center of town, which will distribute power and heat to critical facilities, is a feasible option. These smaller grids operate on their own from the main power grid and will provide power to these facilities in case of power outages during emergencies or disasters.
The microgrid would service “critical facilities” such as Hoboken Fire Company 3, Police Headquarters, City Hall, the Hoboken Homeless Shelter, St. Matthews Church, as well as St. Peter and Paul Church, Kings Grocery, municipal garages B, D & G, multiple senior housing facilities, the YMCA, two local pharmacies, three Hoboken Housing Authority Properties, Andrew Jackson Gardens, Harrison Gardens, Adams and Monroe Gardens, and pump stations.
The city has also worked with PSE&G on a new substation that will help keep power on during severe storms.
The power outages in 2012 were largely caused by power that got flooded and soaked.
Zimmer said she believes the Rebuild by Design project will help reduce the costs of flood insurance in the city. Flood insurance rates are based upon how well a structure complies with the regulations of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
In 2012, Congress passed the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform act, which required the NFIP to raise its rates to more accurately reflect flood risks. According to NFIP statistics, as of June 30, 2015, the city of Hoboken had 9,269 NFIP policies in place with premiums of $6,734,044, the fifth highest in all of New Jersey.
The overall liability to the NFIP from property owners in Hoboken was over $2 billion (third highest in New Jersey) with an average claim amount of $26,243.”
“The National Flood Insurance Program is beyond broke,” said Zimmer. “ Billions in the hole. There was a big study done over the last decade which shows there has been almost 300 billion dollars spent in dealing with disaster relief, and there is the potential that the federal government may make the decision to take on more of that cost, which means flood insurance premiums could go through the roof.”
The city of Hoboken and the Hoboken Historical Museum invite residents and visitors to an open house event to in connection with the fifth anniversary of Sandy. The event will take place on Sunday, Oct. 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Museum, 1301 Hudson St.
Residents and visitors are invited to view Sandy-related materials, sign the museum’s five-year anniversary reflection book, and enjoy hot beverages and desserts.
Coincidentally, Accuweather predicts heavy rains and potential flooding that afternoon.
For more information on Sandy and personal accounts from Hoboken residents, also see our story at: https://tinyurl.com/ycxkgaz3.
Life during the storm
The category 1 hurricane made a direct hit on the Jersey Shore, landing two days before Halloween on Oct. 29, 2012 and trapping people in their homes with high floodwaters south of Sixth Street.
Some neighbors kayaked down city streets while others wore trash bags on their feet as protection from sewage infested water.
Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency and the National Guard was in town to assist residents.
Much of the town was without heat or electricity. Those with power on certain blocks threaded extension cords through their windows to outside, so neighbors could charge their phones and laptops.
Some local restaurants without power gave away food to those who needed it and others worked on the honor system, as no power meant no ATM for cash or working credit card machines.
The Hoboken University Medical Center was evacuated and patients were sent to other facilities for care.
The Hudson Reporter, whose offices lost power for a week, published that weekend after the staff worked in a conference room in the maternity ward of Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen.
“My most vivid memory of Sandy is walking down Hudson Street and seeing so many extension cords trailing out the front doors and windows of residents who were lucky enough to keep power,” said Alison Singer in a past article. “Some provided WiFi passwords, others provided coffee and snacks, still others just provided encouraging words and a place to sit. It was the most amazing show of community I have ever seen. It made me proud to live in Hoboken.”
After the storm departed, an army of volunteers including students and residents came to City Hall to assist officials and the CERT (Citizen Emergency Response Team) in finding needy seniors and others who were trapped. The mayor called in the National Guard and began having daily briefings outside City Hall.
The city wrote information in a few locations around town, including on the window of Starbucks on 12th Street, about where to get water and other necessities.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.