The storm surge from Hurricane Sandy flooded half of the city of Hoboken, New Jersey, stranded 20,000 residents in their homes, and forced the evacuation of two of the city's five fire stations. Now, years after the storm, Hoboken is working on a plan to protect the city against a re occurrence of that situation. But the current working version of a flood-protection concept for the city, based on high flood walls, is meeting opposition from some of Hoboken's citizens.
NJ Advance Media has a report (see: "Hoboken residents who avoided Sandy's flood oppose surge 'walls'," by Steve Strunsky). "The surge resistance concepts were developed under a $230 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, after a team of professional planners chose Hoboken as a model for designing a flood mitigation plans," the report explains. "A submission developed by the team with the city's cooperation was among six winning entries in a HUD flood mitigation design contest, and the grant was allocated to the state. There are no engineering plans at this point. But engineers say one specification among the concepts is to create a set of barriers securing the city, or most of the city, depending on the concept chosen, to a height of 18 feet above the normal level of the river. That is based on the 11-foot height of Sandy's surge, plus another seven feet to account for wave action."
Residents whose homes didn't flood in Sandy, or in the many ordinary rainstorms that have brought knee-deep water to parts of Hoboken since, don't like the idea. Said one at a public meeting: "Walls divide."
In fact, the award-winning concept doesn't rely only on walls, but is grounded in a blend of hard and soft measures, according to a 2014 profile in The Atlantic (see: "The Water Next Time," by Eric Jaffe). "Flood walls strong enough to resist storm surges will protect high-risk sites along the riverfront," The Atlantic explained. "A system of parks, so-called green roofs, and terraced wetlands will hopefully act like sponges, soaking up water long enough to delay runoff and keep drains and sewers from being overwhelmed; another system of underground cisterns and retention basins will store excess water until high tides recede. Pumps will discharge floodwater back into the river once a storm has passed. Together, these parts should be capable of withstanding a once-in-500-years storm. What makes the plan so innovative, says Daniel Pittman, an architect and strategist at [architecture firm] OMA and the overall lead for the design team, is that it doesn’t rely on one isolated tool for defense but instead weaves together 'hard' infrastructure (like levees) with 'soft' infrastructure (like parks)."
But the hard barriers envisioned in the proposal, such as the waterfront levees, are the first item Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer would like to see built, according to The Atlantic — and that's the part that opponents of the plan like the least. Said one opponent at this month's meeting: "Some of these things look like East Berlin. They're really scary."