It all started with Hurricane Sandy.
In 2012, the super storm struck with a vengeance, causing unprecedented destruction as record storm surges wreaked havoc across New York City, flooding shoreline neighborhoods and subway stations, and knocking out the city’s power grid. While much of Hunts Point was spared, neighbors and officials were left wondering: what happens when the next one hits?
Four years later, a group of nine local residents have now been hired to solicit ideas and concerns from their neighbors in order to understand how to protect at-risk areas of the peninsula from future storms.
The Hunts Point Resiliency Project, a $45 million dollar project funded by both federal and city agencies to ensure that Hunts Point will be prepared for natural disasters and extreme weather, worked with around 40 local residents, the newly hired Neighborhood Outreach Members and representatives from the city on Oct. 19 in table discussions to generate feedback to the project’s initial findings. So far some of those findings include the lack of back-up generators, limited access to cooling centers, and old critical transformers and electrical systems around the industrial area of the peninsula.
“Not many people in the neighborhood know about this,” said Dawn Ortiz, 20, former A.C.T.I.O.N member and the youngest member of the Neighborhood Outreach Team. Ortiz wanted to continue her work helping the neighborhood and feels that more young people in the area are getting engaged with the resiliency project.
“A lot of people don’t think anything will happen to us, or don’t understand the risks of climate change, but it can happen to us,” Ortiz said. “My job is to talk to the rest of the community because I know how they feel.”
The Outreach Team will work with representatives from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, The Institute for Social Change and the Advisory Working Group—members who make up the resiliency team. Earlier this year, federal and city governments created this network to lead two feasibility studies for energy resiliency and flood risk protection in both the residential and industrial areas on the peninsula. In order to become more energy resilient, some project ideas included micro grids, building retrofits, back-up generators, floodwalls, deployable pumps, and green infrastructure.
Over the next four years, the city plans to use the $45 million in funds to design and implement a plan that will protect the peninsula from future storms. The project is slated to be finished around 2018.
“The point is to come to the community with our findings and see if this is what they’re saying and also share any information they have that could be important to the project,” said Jessica Colon, senior policy advisor for the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency. “It’s a two-way flow of information.”
Victor Colon, a member of the outreach team, has lived in Hunts Point since 1999. He said he was pleased to see the city take a vested interest in the neighborhood, though he speculated that the city’s real motive was to protect the food distribution center.
“It’s very encouraging to see people from the outside having an interest in us, said Colon. ”They want to protect Hunts Point food distribution so they are protecting us at the same time.”
The nine outreach members must commit to four hours a month for the 18-month project period. They are required to attend monthly meetings and engage in outreach activities. Members must plan and lead at least one resiliency event during a six-month period and can work with schools, churches, local businesses, and other community groups to educate community members, gather feedback from local residents and stakeholders, and share vital information about the resiliency project. They will be compensated $130 dollars monthly.
“Community voices need to be heard on how things get implemented,” said Curtis Ogden, a senior associate from the Interaction Institute for Social Change who is also a part of the community engagement team.
Paul Lasalle, a Tremont resident and outreach member whose day job is in solar power sales, knows how important it is to educate the neighborhood about the effects of climate change and what it means to be prepared in a climate event.
“This is a direct engagement duty,” said LaSalle. “So if it’s knocking on doors, then we are going to do that.”
Members plan to reach out to residents with the use of social media, educational events, art shows, information booths at community events, and will also conduct surveys and collect data on the streets.
“Overall people are very concerned and have the fear that with any storm they are worried about their property, livelihood, quality of life and also access to basic amenities,” said Angela Tovar, director of the Neighborhood Outreach Team and South Bronx Community Resiliency Agenda.
At the end of the meeting, Lucia Hernandez, who is retired and lives on Longfellow Avenue, raised her concerns about the use of energy in the wake of a weather event. Hernandez feels that solar power would be an affordable solution to power outages during summer heat waves in the city.
“I don’t want to be without electricity,” said Hernandez. “My resources of relaxation besides gardening are watching my novellas. I want my television to work and my fan. If you lose a fan, what other resource do you have?”