HOBOKEN AND BEYOND -- On Wednesday, the Sierra Club issued a press release giving a thumbs down to Mayor Dawn Zimmer's suggestion in her State of the City address last week about hurricane protection. She suggested that walls near the city's borders could help protect the mile-square city from hurricanes.
The Club released this statement from their president, who said he has more than 30 years' experience in flooding in New Jersey. They entitled the release "Hoboken is not an Island":
“Last week in Hoboken, Mayor Dawn Zimmer gave her State of the City speech that mapped out her plans to deal with the flooding after Hurricane Sandy. Instead of coming up with a comprehensive plan to deal with flooding, the major part of her plan was to build permanent walls. These walls would be located along the south and north areas of the city and will rise up as gates when flooding occurs.
"The problem with putting up a wall is that the wall would raise the water level with the water going around the walls or being pushed into neighboring communities like Jersey City and Weehawken.
"In order for this to have a chance of working you would have to put a wall around the entire city with gates at every street in and out of the city. This will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and most likely not work anyway. The problem with flood walls is that they would be walling off the water front impacting public access and views. Also it would take a lot of open space that could be used for flood storage. In densely populated Hudson County there is no open space with this water ultimately flooding Hoboken’s neighboring communities. The main purpose of building the flood wall is so developers can build more high rises along the water front and rail yards. It is not about protecting the people of Hoboken it is just a rationalization for more development.
“In order for the flood wall to work is to wall off the entire city expect for Castle Point. Every street in and out of town would have to have massive steel gates that would cost billions of dollars. Hopefully if the walls are up all the gates close and that nothing fails like what happened in New Orleans. The wall could end up raising the water level higher. "The water can still get into the city by backing up from the river through storm drains or the rain water would have nowhere to go. The wall could also be overtopped by a storm surge. This will end up like a wall in a medieval city and just like those medieval cities the wall offers a false sense of security. Also the city would end up having a wall between the community and the waterfront as well a loss of acres of open space and other properties in order to build such a wall. Hundreds of parking spaces will also be lost in order to build the wall.
“Flood walls provide a false sense of security and do not actually protect people from storm surges. Flood walls raise the level of the storm water creating more flooding as the water goes around the wall.
The water will either go around the wall or flood the towns next to Hoboken unless the flood wall is made completely around Hoboken. Making this wall would also cause damage to piers and walkways. It would be like the Maginot wall the French build and the Germans went around the wall to capture Paris.” - Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club
When phoned for follow-up information, Tittel said he had more than 30 years of experience in flood issues in New Jersey. Tittel has sat on Gov. Christie Whitman’s task force, various planning boards, and advocated against flood and sea walls in many towns, he said.
“Whenever there’s a flood, everyone looks for the most simplistic solution,” said Tittel. “People immediately say flood walls. They cost a lot of money and they usually fail. One of the best quotes on this came from North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt who said a reason for not using sea walls was so that we don’t look like New Jersey.”
Tittel also said that adding a 10-foot wall along Sinatra Drive would require it to be built in almost a full square or at least to the points on the western end that have high enough elevation.
“Then you wind up walling off your community," he said. "Frank Sinatra Drive would look like Route 35 [down the shore]. Look at Sea Bright. They have sea walls and the water still went over.”
Tittel added that there are also hazards to the environment that can manifest from sea walls, like fish contamination and toxin release.
The club also listed various alternatives to storm walls, including green, sustainable buildings with green roofs.
Mayor Zimmer has taken positions in favor of open space and against overdevelopment in Hoboken. The Reporter has asked the mayor's office for a response to the press release.
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