Residents of Weehawken’s low-lying neighborhood known as The Shades say they’re more than happy with the township’s plan to build flood walls to protect the area, though some expressed concerns with its logistics.
“If this plan could guarantee that we won’t see anything like what happened here again, then I’m all for it,” said resident April Muraca, “no matter what the cost. The damage down here was too terrible.”
The Shades neighborhood was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy last October, when nearly seven feet of water settled in the streets, flooding basements and first floors, destroying cars, and causing serious damage to St. Lawrence Church, the township’s main Catholic parish.
The town’s proposal is to build a half-mile of walls around The Shades in two separate phases – a permanent, concrete-reinforced wall along the neighboring Hudson-Bergen Light Rail tracks, and a “deployable” wall that would lay flat on a section of Boulevard East and only spring into action in the event of a flood surge.
The $12 million plan would be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA), if it is accepted by the state authorities tasked with delegating nearly $600 million in federal funds earmarked for infrastructural improvements in Sandy’s wake. The township won’t know for at least six months if its plan, which was designed in conjunction with the North Hudson Sewerage Authority (NHSA), has been accepted.
Still, residents say the sooner, the better, especially since it seems that hurricanes in the Mid-Atlantic region have become more intense and more frequent in recent years.
“I didn’t think you could fight Mother Nature, but I guess you can,” said Ken Rubenstein, who owns FCA Lighting, one of the few businesses that operates in the mainly residential neighborhood.
“I didn’t think you could fight Mother Nature, but I guess you can.” – Ken Rubenstein
Rubenstein said that his business took some damage in the hurricane, but not as much as residents, because FCA is situated on slightly higher ground.
Kurt Cheng, one of the first Shades residents to return to the neighborhood after the storm to survey the damage, said he thought the walls were a great idea.
“I think [the walls] would definitely protect us,” he said. “People down here definitely don’t want to go through something like that again.”
Questions and concerns
Praise for the plan was not universal, however. Some residents seemed confused about the logistic capabilities of the aluminum deployable wall, which would lie in the street and naturally rise as flood water rushed in under it. One suggested that it could be potentially dangerous for motorists who drive down the Park Avenue bridge from Hoboken too quickly.
“In a rainstorm or a snowstorm, wouldn’t it be really slippery?” asked Patty Vavrican. “Wouldn’t it freeze much easier than the road?”
Vavrican seemed unphased by the knowledge that several similar deployable walls have been utilized in New Orleans with great success since Hurricane Katrina.
“It’s not as cold down there, is it?” she said.
Another Shades resident, who asked not to be identified on account of her employment with the township, suggested that the money would be better spent on improvements to NHSA’s 18th Street pump station, which came within inches of failing during Sandy.
“If you build the walls, where’s all the water going to go?” she asked. “I think it’d be better to work on the pumps.”
Walter Bartkus, who said he supported the measure despite some misgivings about its effectiveness, wondered if the fact that a gap between the walls must remain open due to the train tracks makes the entire plan obsolete.
“No one wants to see that kind of damage again, but I don’t know if there’s any way around that,” he said. “Ideally you’d build walls on all four sides, but that doesn’t seem to be a possibility.”
However, Bartkus said that extending the permanent wall all the way into the Palisades cliffs was a good idea.
Although an ordinance to file the application with the state was filed in hurry last month in order to meet FEMA’s deadline, Mayor Richard Turner said that he is planning to hold community meetings with Shades and other township residents to field questions and hear concerns about the project.
According to Turner’s chief of staff Gio Ahmad, a meeting will be scheduled in the coming days.
“We had to get it done, and we had to get it done quickly,” he said at the time.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org