Acceptable Collateral Damage

by John Delach

 October 29th marked the seventh anniversary of the day when Superstorm Sandy flooded the New York metropolitan area. The storm’s high tide surge drove a wall of water through the Narrows flooding coastal Staten Island and Brooklyn, burying the Battery, lower Manhattan, Jersey City and Hoboken. Sandy flooded the Hudson Valley almost as far north as Albany.

The same surge flooded most of southern Long Island’s coastal communities like Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Long Beach, Freeport, Seaford, Amityville, the Hamptons and Montauk.

A second surge followed the next high tide that raced west through Long Island Sound inundating the north shore of the island, coastal Connecticut, LaGuardia Airport, the Eastern Bronx, upper Queens and upper Manhattan.

Our tri-state congressional delegations joined in a bi-partisan effort that squeezed more than $60 billion from Uncle to address our joint recovery needs. In the last seven years most of the affected areas have recovered and rebuilt to prepare for a future event, albeit unevenly.

The top priority of restoring vital infrastructure was brilliantly achieved in short order. Rail, subway and highway tunnels were pumped out, cleaned-up and returned to service in a matter of days. Power was restored south of Thirty-Fourth St. in Manhattan and to the towns and villages Sandy had pounded in a few days to a week.

More complex remediations such as renewing rail and subway tubes inundated by saltwater remains a work in progress with several vital links put on back burners. Overall surge protection to combat future storms remains in the planning stages since they are complicated by the need to protect the environment from rising sea levels.

The original idea called for the Army Corp of Engineers to build two barriers to protect Manhattan. One would stretch from Coney Island to Sandy Hook, NJ closing the Narrows to another Sandy. The other would stretch from the Bronx to Queens across the narrowest part of Long Island Sound providing protection from the east.   

In a storm emergency, gates protecting the channels would be shut thereby protecting the City of New York from a tidal surge.

But the blocked water must to go somewhere else and the backflow, especially at high tide, would have a material effect of inundating several other communities along Long Island Sound. This would put my Port Washington home in harm’s way, a victim of acceptable collateral damage.

However, the barriers are but one of several alternatives the Army Corp. of Engineers is considering although the Corp has yet to publicly explain its design or how they will operate.

A notation in the report grabbed my attention. It stated that the proposed barriers wouldn’t provide protection from future increases in the sea level. That struck me as odd especially as I have yet to notice any responsible official or politician advancing a plan how to deal with rising sea levels? The only reference I have discovered was one from the EPA noting that rising sea levels may become an issue in the next 35 to 50 years.

I am not aware of any national initiative to cope with rising sea levels much less create an action plan to combat it. Instead it would appear that each segment of our government is content to pursue the status quo. There isn’t even consensus to address the problem much less a dialogue to develop a national solution.

All I see is the right resisting the idea of climate change while the left demands radical solutions as they proclaim that the sky is falling. Noise, nothing but noise, that is what, we the people hear. Our government has become unhinged. Both political parties are using power to incapacitate each other.

The coastline of the continental United States is 12,383 miles. This number balloons to 95,471 miles when all the bays, sounds, estuaries and islands are included. 

Inaction prevails as our leaders choose to kick this can down the road. I doubt they have that luxury this time. No one knows for sure if or when the full moon tides will begin to play havoc with our ability to continue our normal activities uninterrupted.

Here in the Metropolitan Area shouldn’t we the people demand that our leaders address this possibility now? What will be the usefulness of the new airports, train tunnels and so many infrastructure projects now being built if they are under water?

Hand wringing is not the answer.

What happened to the political will of the people? What happened to strong leaders willing to form a consensus where all sectors join in a common effort to solve this problem?

We are consumed by a crisis of government that is tearing us apart. And for what? A gotcha moment that will never happen.

Stop the madness. Focus our collective effort on solving our national crisis. To hell with trying to ameliorate world-wide climate change! Protect our homeland. That should be our top priority.

Where is Robert Moses when we need him …