$10B plan to flood-proof Lower Manhattan by extending shoreline into the East River

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Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled on Thursday a $10 billion plan to extend the coastline of Lower Manhattan as much as 500 feet to protect from future floods. The Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency project is the result of a study that looked at ways to build resilience in low-lying neighborhoods like the Financial District and South Street Seaport. The study found the only feasible measure for these areas would be extending the shoreline about two city blocks into the East River by adding a new piece of land at or above 20 feet from current sea level.

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According to the study, led by the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the city’s Economic Development Corporation, by the 2050s, 37 percent of properties in Lower Manhattan will be at risk from storm surge. By 2100, nearly 50 percent of properties would be at risk, as the sea level is projected to rise by six feet. In a press release, the mayor said Hurricane Sandy, which damaged about 17,000 homes in 2012, revealed just how at risk parts of Lower Manhattan are to climate change.

“That’s why we not only have to reduce emissions to prevent the most cataclysmic potential effects of global warming, we have to prepare for the ones that are already inevitable,” de Blasio said. “Our actions will protect Lower Manhattan into the next century.”

The study found that extending the shoreline of FiDi and the Seaport District, instead of building flood protection on land, is necessary because the area lacks the space, with dense infrastructure both above and underground. According to the city, the new shoreline will serve as a flood barrier during storms.

A master plan will be completed by the city over the next two years that will establish a “new public-benefit corporation” to finance, manage, and construct the project. The city said it will immediately procure a team of engineers and designers through a Request for Qualification later this month.

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And de Blasio also announced that the city will invest $500 million in capital projects for overall climate resilience, as well as in planning for the Lower Manhattan project. That investment will be spent expanding temporary flood-proof measures for the 2019 hurricane season, reconstructing the Battery Park City esplanade starting in 2020, elevating The Battery’s wharf and adding a berm at the back of the park in 2021, and designing a flood protection system for the Two Bridges neighborhood in the next two years.

A community outreach process is set to begin this spring, which will help determine the extent of the shoreline expansion and identify the project’s first phase.

“Impacts of climate change pose an existential threat to our quality of life and economic stability,” James Patchett, EDC President said. “A comprehensive strategy to protect Lower Manhattan against climate risks is critically necessary in order to safeguard our communities and secure our collective future.”

In a New York Magazine op-ed published on Wednesday, de Blasio said the project would need to be “backed by big federal dollars.” He also voiced support for the Green New Deal, an economic program proposed by Democrats that would address climate change.

“The national emergency is already here,” the mayor wrote. “We have to meet it head-on. And we need Washington behind us.”