City unveils flood-prevention strategies

As engineers and planners look for ways to keep Hunts Point safe from catastrophic flooding, residents have mixed feelings about their findings so far.

Enjoying the Bronx River at Hunts Point Riverside Park.

Community stresses need for environmentally sound measures

As engineers and planners look for ways to keep Hunts Point safe from catastrophic flooding, residents have mixed feelings about their findings so far.

At the Hunts Point Resiliency Project’s fourth community workshop, some 30 residents and community organizations gathered with city officials at Rocking the Boat’s headquarters on the banks of the Bronx River to hear what progress city officials have made in identifying safeguards against storm surge. 

When Sandy hit Hunts Point in 2012, it exposed the dangers that low-lying industrial and commercial areas face from coastal flooding, along with the possibility of power outages that could affect businesses and residents alike.

The Hunts Point Cooperative Market, which houses 52 businesses that sell meat to restaurants and shops in the city and along the east coast, is among the waterfront’s most vulnerable tenants, as are businesses at the northern edge of Food Center Drive, such as Krasdale Foods Inc. Researchers based their findings on how low-lying the facilities are, the number of employees, and the potential costs of damage to electrical equipment, perishable goods and inventory.

“The coastal flood protection goal that we have is distinct from other kinds of flooding,” said Louise Yeung, Senior Project Manager at the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), striking an ominous note. “We’re really talking about water that’s coming up, generated by a storm such as Hurricane Sandy. This is water that’s coming from the river, from the ocean, onto the land.”

Organizers propose three ways to reduce the local flood risk. They are:

  • Constructing an area-wide floodwall along the waterfront.
  • Elevating buildings in the meat market by raising the lowest occupied floors and critical equipment.
  • Strengthening electrical, mechanical, fuel and communication infrastructure.

Some attendees were skeptical these proposed solutions would be fool-proof. A floodwall, they argued, would block access to docks and riverfront views.

“I know one priority that the community is really for and that’s our waterfront parks. That wall would backtrack what we did 14 years ago,” said Aaliyah Daniels, 15, an activist at The Point’s teen community leadership group A.C.T.I.O.N., referring to the Barretto Point Park, which was finished in 2006.

Many said they want the project to stress  environmental-friendliness above all, while creating jobs and protecting residential buildings. Grace Kuponiyi, 16, also of A.C.T.I.O.N., said she was concerned that these approaches wouldn’t protect residential areas and parks.

Attendees also doubted the added value a few feet of elevation might provide, and they were worried about the amount of time it will take the city to make the changes.

Angela Tovar, director of community development at The Point, raised additional concerns about toxicity in the ground. An EDC representative responded that toxic materials at the waterfront are not water-soluble, and are unlikely to travel fast or far when floodwaters come.

HDR Inc., the engineering firm the city picked to run a renewable energy pilot project on the peninsula, says it plans to install solar panels and battery storage systems to power two local schools, P.S. 48, The Joseph R. Drake School and M.S. 424, The Hunts Point Middle School. The solar panels will produce renewable energy, and the batteries will store that energy, generating backup during emergencies or outages.

Despite the potential benefits, the EDC presenters said, none of the reduction strategies would be seamless to implement. Though a floodwall would be designed to protect a large area, constructing it would be time-consuming and expensive. Elevating the buildings at the meat market would protect a limited area and the construction phase would cause considerable disruption. Strengthening infrastructure presents its own challenges, stemming from the need for site preparation and interference with existing refrigeration systems.

Organizers say further technical analysis will be needed and more community input gathered before they hammer out any conclusive plans. On July 27, the project will host a forum to discuss creating green jobs and strengthening community participation in the planning process. A policy advisor for the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, Rachel Finkelstein, said the dialogue will continue.

“Understanding Hunts Point residents’ and stakeholders’ priorities on reducing flood risk in the neighborhood is critical to ensure we are pursuing projects that address those priorities,” she said.

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