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NYC May Build Levees as Mayor Reviews Sandy Preparation

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the most populous U.S. city will review how to better prepare for and recover from storms like Hurricane Sandy, as he shunned calls to invest in costly sea walls.

The administration will look at what the city must do to withstand even worse weather than Sandy, and may need to shift evacuation zones, update building codes and add levees and jetties to deflect storm surges. A review of the storm preparation and response will be made public by February, Bloomberg, a 70-year-old independent, said today in Manhattan.

“We may or may not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that we should leave it to our children to prepare for the possibility,” Bloomberg said in a speech sponsored by New York’s League of Conservation Voters and the Regional Plan Association, which prepares long-range development strategies for the region.

New York’s ability to protect and revive itself after extreme weather took on urgency after Sandy hit Oct. 29. The record-breaking storm was the worst in the city’s history and shut down parts of all five boroughs, grounded mass transit, blacked out entire neighborhoods and killed 43.

King Canute

With 520 miles (837 kilometers) of shoreline, New York City can’t abandon the waterfront altogether, though it must build better and stronger in preparation for storms to increase in intensity as ocean temperatures continue to rise, the mayor said. New York can’t solve all the country’s problems caused by climate change, “but I think it’s fair to say we can lead the way,” he said.

An expedited engineering analysis will look at coastline protections other than sea walls, including berms, dunes, jetties and levees, he said. A study on the topic by the Army Corps of Engineers will take years and the city can’t wait that long, he said.

“We live next to the ocean, and the ocean comes with risks that we just cannot eliminate,” he said. “It would be nice if we could stop the tides from coming in, but King Canute couldn’t do it -- and neither can we,” a reference to the 11th century leader of England who once commanded, unsuccessfully, the waves to turn back.

New Yardstick

Consolidated Edison Inc., among the utilities the state is investigating for management of blackouts during the storm, has committed to an initial investment of $250 million to harden its electric, gas and steam systems, the mayor said. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is updating its maps -- last done in 1983 -- to better reflect flood zones after two-thirds of homes damaged by Sandy were outside the agency’s 100-year flood maps.

“The yardstick has changed, and so must we,” said Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

The mayor’s plan builds on years in office spent preparing for climate change while reducing New York’s carbon footprint. He has spearheaded a $2.4 billion green initiative to capture rainwater and protect neighborhoods and sewage systems. He also has called on building owners to paint roofs white to cut energy costs and is restoring 127 acres of wetlands, one of the best natural storm barriers. In 2007, the mayor set a goal of reducing carbon gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.

Deputy Mayors Cas Holloway, Linda Gibbs and Bob Steel, and Economic Development Corp. President Seth Pinsky will lead the efforts. They will be joined by Marc Ricks, an infrastructure specialist and former administration member, who will take a leave of absence from his post at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Former Vice President Al Gore, a critic of U.S. environmental policy, lauded the mayor in his introduction and called on the federal government to follow New York’s lead. Sandy was related to the planet’s warming and U.S. democracy has been “hacked” by people unwilling to admit that, he said.

“Dirty energy causes dirty weather, and we have to come to our senses and do something about it,” Gore said. “We cannot have four more years of mentioning this occasionally and say it’s too bad that the Congress can’t act.”

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