delivered March 16, 2017, Debaun Auditorium, Stevens Institute of Technology
As the co-chair of the Citizen Advisory Group for the Hudson River Rebuild By Design project, I should preface this by saying we as a group will be submitting more comprehensive feedback on the draft EIS in writing before the April 10 deadline. For tonight’s hearing I wanted to make four points:
1. Never in my lifetime did I ever think I would have the opportunity to participate in a project like this Rebuild By Design project. This project brings the potential to do so_much_good for so_many of our neighbors. We need to keep the momentum going. But we also have to keep in mind, this isn’t about parking spaces, it’s about the health and safety of more than 60,000 people who live in a vulnerable area.
2. As we look ahead to a Record of Decision we need to look at an implementation strategy that will allow us to implement flood risk reduction measures in smaller increments. We need an adaptable strategy, one we can build on in the future. To start, perhaps we need to focus on a strategy that will protect us from a 50-year event, maybe a 30-year storm event. The Purpose of this project as stated on page ES4 is to reduce the flood risk in the study area. Under section ES 3.0, however, we talk instead about “minimizing” the flood risk from coastal storm surge and rainfall flood events.”
We should not railroad ourselves by having a Record of Decision that forces us to design and build something that we cannot afford. As was just stated in the introduction tonight by the Engineering consultant, “there is no limit to what could be found once we start construction starts.” It was also pointed out that there has been little geotechnical investigation to this point. We don’t know what’s under the ground in most places. But knowing Hoboken we can guess it will be full of surprises, including some unpleasant and very expensive ones. [For example, anyone remember the 1600 Park project? To preserve the flexibility we need moving forward I think we need to change the word “minimize” to “reduce” on line 2 of Section ES 3.0. In our CAG comments to the Draft Scope on October 7 2015, we did not ask for the risk to be “minimized”, but we did ask specifically to establish the purpose as the development of a “Comprehensive Strategy.” (page 1, paragraph 3). If if IF we can eventually afford to “minimize” risk that will be great, but using the term “reduce” will allow us to take some actions even if as design proceeds we realize we cannot afford to “minimize” the risk.
3. As stated under ES 3.1 this project is supposed to be a “comprehensive urban water strategy.” This project is not supposed to be a coastal hardening strategy or a lets-protect-the-people-on-the waterfront strategy. In our CAG comments on the Draft Scope of October 7 2015 we specifically asked for a clear goal of “protecting vulnerable people” (page 2, paragraph 4).
We need to move towards a Record of Decision and final design that will, yes, make investments at the water’s edge in the V- or wave impact zone, but also make investments in smaller water management projects around the city such as at schools and parks. In our CAG Comments on October 7, 2015 we specifically asked to include near-term projects and at various scales (page 3, paragraph 2). These smaller local projects are the types of places where this story of flood and climate change risk needs to be told. [Every green infrastructure installation can become a small outdoor lab for many, classes of students if we engage our teachers.
New York State, for instance, is committing $2M in funds for these types of educational and research projects, calling them “social resilience.” Why do we still talk about these elements of Delay/ Store/Discharge as things we will do “if we have money left over?” We all know that we won’t. And without any elements of the program that engage everyday people and young people, we will fail to build any social capacity to fund, operate and maintain this overall system as we all know we need to.] More local projects, even small projects, will enable more people to understand that though they may live far from the river, they still live dangerously, dangerously close to sea level. Yes, these smaller local projects can help reduce immediate and local flooding risk as well as create added and valuable co-benefits of cleaner air, a greener city, and less summer heat.
4. Last I just want to publicly say I think the process has struggled to engage the diversity of Hoboken. Looking at this crowd tonight most people live in the comfort of higher income brackets. To fulfill the Rebuild By Design vision of an inclusive process, one that serves society as a whole, we really need to open up the tent a little wider, get out into the community more, and into the classrooms. What we design and build over the next 5-7 years our kids will be stuck paying for, and they are not being prepared for this enormous responsibility. As a Hoboken taxpayer and North Hudson Sewerage Authority Ratepayer I am not sure I am prepared either.
These are enormous and very expensive decisions we are expected to make, and therefore we should make sure we build into the Record of the Design the flexibility to make the smartest choices as new information becomes available in the design stage. Thank you. ###