Bloomberg to Propose Spending Billions to Reduce Storm Risk

Almost eight months after Hurricane Sandy flooded New York’s subways, destroyed homes and blacked out half of Manhattan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will propose spending billions of dollars to mitigate storm risk along the city’s more than 500 miles of coastline.

Mindful of environmental scientists’ predictions that sea levels around the city may rise 12 to 55 inches by 2080, the mayor tomorrow will unveil a capital spending plan to mitigate the dangers, his office said.

“As bad as Sandy was, future storms could be even worse,” the mayor said in remarks prepared for delivery tomorrow. “Because of rising temperatures and sea levels, even a storm that’s not as large as Sandy could be -- down the road -- even more destructive.”

By mid-century, as much as one-quarter of New York’s land area, where 800,000 residents live, will be in a flood plain, the mayor plans to say.

Today, in advance of the proposals, Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway and Seth Pinsky, president of the city Economic Development Corp., briefed reporters in City Hall about the severity of the city’s vulnerability. They oversaw a task force created to assess the city’s long-term needs.

Sandy’s Destruction

Their assessments came in response to Sandy, which brought a record 14-foot (4.3-meter) storm surge to Lower Manhattan in October. It flooded seven subway tunnels, immersed electrical substations, shut down the financial district and killed power south of 35th Street. All five boroughs bore its brunt in the city of 8 million. The storm killed more than 100 people in the U.S, 42 in New York City, and damaged more than 300,000 homes.

Members of the task force found that federal flood maps don’t take into account the impact of storm surges and the accelerating rise in the sea level. They sketched scenarios of weather events hitting the city’s food supply. Heat waves and droughts could cause power outages and public health crises, they said.

“All of this is assuming we do nothing,” Holloway said. “There’s a real cost to inaction.”

The infrastructure proposals would amount to billions of dollars in capital spending, some of which would be paid for through the sale of municipal bonds, said Lauren Passalacqua, a mayoral spokeswoman.

Bond Risk

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the storm caused billions of dollars to city and state property, plus the costs of clean-up, law-enforcement overtime and repairs to infrastructure owned by the transit agencies and water and sewer authorities. Almost all those costs were reimbursed through federal aid, officials have said.

The potential of another catastrophic storm led the state to include climate change as a risk for bondholders in a March offering statement. New York advised investors to note that “significant long-term planning and investment by the federal government, state and municipalities may be needed to adapt existing infrastructure to the risks posed by climate change.”

In January, the Democratic governor proposed spending as much as $29 billion to build storm barriers in New York Harbor, and two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River. Gates that would close against a storm surge would be similar to those in London and St. Petersburg, Russia, according to a report Cuomo commissioned.

The report concluded that New York City’s tunnels and depots for subways and buses lacked protection against flooding and required more ability to pump out water. New technology providing inflatable cylinder-shaped water gates may provide a practical solution to plugging the entrance of tunnels from flooding, it said.

The mayor, a 71-year-old independent, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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