A coordinated push by Community Board 1 (CB1), elected officials representing Lower Manhattan, and the Downtown Alliance has resulted in the allocation of a total of $14.75 million in new funds to help Lower Manhattan plan for and prepare for future extreme weather events, particularly floods.
This allocation includes $6.75 million from the City and State for planning a second section of the proposed “Big U” flood protection system, beginning at Montgomery Street, and extending around the tip of Lower Manhattan, then up the West Side to Jay Street in Tribeca, which roughly marks the northern border of Battery Park City. (The first section of the “Big U” project, stretching from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street, was allocated $335 million last June.) An additional $8 million in City capital funds have been earmarked for flood protection design and implementation in Battery Park.
“This has been a hard-fought win for our community,” says CB1 chair Catherine McVay Hughes. “It is the result of almost three years of dedicated, persistent work since Superstorm Sandy.”
“Lower Manhattan was one of the areas hit hardest by Sandy, as whole neighborhoods from the Seaport to Battery Park City found themselves underwater,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “You could make a good case these neighborhoods constitute the historic, civic, and economic heart of our city — which is why it’s critical we take all necessary steps to protect them from extreme weather events.”
“Our buildings are still standing, but there’s no question that Lower Manhattan is in serious need of protection,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “These dollars will get protection built at Manhattan’s southern tip and are a big step forward for planning from Montgomery Street to Battery Park City. The City’s acknowledgement of Lower Manhattan’s resiliency needs as part of its massive City-wide plan is a great sign of its responsiveness.
“I am gratified that we were successful in bringing additional flood protection measures to Lower Manhattan,” said Assemblyman Sheldon Silver. “This area absorbed a serious blow from Superstorm Sandy and areas such as the South Street Seaport were completely flooded. These actions will begin to protect this important community from future storms and represent a commitment to take additional needed steps to better protect Lower Manhattan.”
“Our city must continue to do more to protect Lower Manhattan from natural disasters,” said City Council Member Margaret Chin. “This is a critical investment in the future of Lower Manhattan’s booming residential and business community, and I thank Mayor de Blasio for hearing our call and taking this step forward.”
“This funding marks an important and tangible step towards addressing Lower Manhattan’s need to be ever more prepared and resilient,” said Jessica Lappin, President of the Downtown Alliance. “Not only does essential planning work continue but we are now putting dollars directly into shovel-ready work in Lower Manhattan that will meaningfully contribute to long term, lasting solutions.”
The $8-million allocation for flood protection design and first-phase implementation at Battery Park marks the first capital investment by the City within the borders of CB1 in the two years since Hurricane Sandy devastated Lower Manhattan. This marks a significant victory for the community after Lower Manhattan was largely left out of recent apportionments of Federal, State, and City resiliency funds.
Last October, the City received its third allocation of $994,056,000 of Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The de Blasio Administration released its plans for this money (with no significant allocation for Lower Manhattan) on December 19, and scheduled a hearing about those plans for January 15. As CB1 chair Catherine McVay Hughes testified at the hearing, this schedule allowed only, “a short time for preparation by those wishing to comment, especially considering the two major holidays during this time.” Ms. McVay Hughes also said that community leaders were, “disappointed to learn that there was no opportunity for public comment at this, or any previous public hearing on the Proposed Action Plan,” because “this is a critically important part of the review process.”
In response, Lower Manhattan leaders orchestrated a full-court press of City, State, and Federal officials to redress the imbalance. Ms. McVay Hughes, Senator Daniel Squadron, City Council member Margaret Chin, and Downtown Alliance president Lappin met at City Hall with de Blasio Administration officials on February 6 to argue their case. On March 10, Ms. McVay Hughes and other members of CB1 met at a Federal hearing about unmet resiliency needs.
“This is only a first step of many,” says Ms. McVay Hughes. “CB1 is urging the City to make CB1 a top priority in the next round of Federal funding projects: CB1 is a major business district, the fastest-growing residential area in the City, and the linchpin of our entire mass-transit system. All these assets are at risk due to climate change.”
“This emphasizes the need to address extreme climate events now and not postpone action,” Ms. McVay Hughes continued. “During Sandy at a height of seven feet, CB1 experienced one of the highest inundation levels in Manhattan. Tragically, two people in CB1 were drowned, and there was billions of dollars of damage to infrastructure, housing and commercial property and utilities.”
Now that preliminary funds have been allocated, the City will release a Request for Proposals in coming months to recruit a consulting team to advance conceptual design work around Lower Manhattan. In addition to an integrated flood protection strategy, the study conducted by this team will also examine potential secondary benefits, which could include improved or expanded waterfront access, stronger connections between neighborhoods, and enhanced water quality and habitat.