As New Yorkers struggle to cope with the destruction and aftermath from Hurricane Sandy, there are renewed calls to consider large-scale flood protective measures and infrastructure improvements for the metropolitan area. Both Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg associate the recent extreme weather events with global climate change, suggesting this is the "new normal". Cuomo says, "… Anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality … How do we redesign the system to make sure this doesn't happen again?"
Storm surge barriers have been discussed for decades. In 2004, a team based out of SUNY Stony Brook initially proposed three separate moveable barriers for the Verrazano-Narrows, the Arthur Kill on the west side Staten Island, and the East River near the Throgs Neck. The revised proposal replaces the Verrazano-Narrows and Arthur Kill constructs with a single 5 mile barrier farther out in the harbor. Stretching from Rockaway Beach to Sandy Hook, NJ, the project would cost at least $10 billion. The design would be similar to the 15 mile complex of dams and shipping gates which protects St. Petersburg, Russia. Other moveable storm barriers in Europe include the Thames Barrier, and the massive Delta Works which protects most of the Netherlands.
There are also numerous "soft infrastructure" proposals that would help combat extreme weather events. Some of them were detailed in last year's Vision 2020 Plan for the NYC waterfront. Constructing traditional dikes and levees, surrounding the city with tidal marsh edges and grassy wetlands, building barrier islands and even oyster reefs in the harbor have all been suggested. The debate continues, but with over 100 lives lost and an estimated $50 billion in damages, Hurricane Sandy will almost certainly prompt some major changes for the Big Apple.