Designing to survive a super storm


A new project aims to help protect Hunts Point from storm surges. The highest risk areas of the waterfront are shaded brown on this FEMA map.

Planners look to protect Hunts Point from hurricanes

Hunts Point dodged a bullet when Hurricane Sandy came ashore on Oct. 29, 2012. Flooding from the East River caused just minor damage. But planners understood that next time the peninsula might not be so lucky.

That a flood of raw sewage didn’t flow down Hunts Point Avenue was “just a matter of chance,” warned Michael Brotchner, the executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, in a meeting with The Express.

A team of designers and architects says depending on lady luck a second time would be a deadly mistake, and has begun devising a plan to protect the neighborhood against catastrophic flooding.They are part of a pilot project funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to guard the east coast against future Sandys.

Climate experts estimate there is a 1-in-500 chance Hunts Point will get slammed with a superstorm bullseye blast by 2050.

In all, 10 projects have been selected under the name Rebuild by Design, to buffer parts of the New Jersey, Connecticut and New York City coastlines, including Hunts Point, against the effects of climate change. In public meetings in January, the team working in Hunts Point asked businesses and residents to help them decide on practical measures to protect the neighborhood from rising water while making the waterfront more accessible for the community.

The planners say the urgency of protecting the nation’s largest food distribution markets coupled with the neighborhood’s recent history of environmental activism make it ideal. They held two public forums to let those who live and work in the neighborhood chime in.

“This piece of geography is sacred for the food chain,” landscape architect Richard Roark told business owners and representatives at a Hunts Point Chamber of Commerce meeting on Jan. 23 at the Anheuser Busch plant on Food Center Drive.

The city has a two-and-a-half day food supply at any given time, he said, stressing that a major storm could jeopardize the distribution markets’ ability to transport its cargo to the rest of Gotham.

Some worried about the absence of an evacuation route.

“There is no contingency plan in place,” said Margi Condyles, business manager at Il Forno Bakery on Faile Street. She was amazed that “nothing in the middle of the peninsula happened,” adding that if the tide had been high, “I don’t know what we would do.”

When a consultant for the project, Candace Damon, asked if representatives at the meeting had flood insurance, none did.

“It doesn’t surprise me that none of you have flood insurance, although it’s a little scary,” she said.

Infrastructure on the peninsula is at risk, warned Brian Kenny, operations manager at the Hunts Point Cooperative Market. Sandy knocked out two of the meat market’s four power feeders.

“If a storm of slightly greater magnitude than the one that hit” had occurred, it could have resulted in massive losses for the market, he said, adding that an emergency plan is not yet in place.

“We’re not sure what we’re going to do yet,” he said.

On their website, designers of the Hunts Point/Lifelines plan highlight the need for green jobs and “a new type of levee that incorporates components that can be manufactured locally and built out cooperatively and quickly.”

Levees would protect the banks of the East and Bronx rivers, and plans call for them to be designed to “realize a key piece of the Bronx Greenway.”

In addition, they call for creation of a “cleanway” to “intercept stormwater and water-borne chemicals in a planted canal.” The canal would trace the route of a creek that once ran through the area, and would also enhance the Greewnay by providing “a safe, green and interesting path between the community and the river.”

Finally, the plan calls for planting green roofs on area buildings to slow the flow of storm water into the river.

A week after meeting with businesses, the planners held a forum at The Point CDC where some 70 residents and activists gathered to brainstorm.

Project manager Amy Chester said her team selected Hunts Point from among other coastal cities and neighborhoods because “The tightest knit communities were the ones that were the most resilient.”

While some attendees were enthusiastic about opportunities, others worried that borough officials would neglect the project’s upkeep once it was built.

“The key thing is maintenance. The Bronx gets ignored,” said Yorman Nuñez, who coordinates the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative.

Others emphasized the need to let residents know how dangerous hurricanes can be.

“You want to make sure the information gets to the community,” said Manuel Rodriguez of West Farms. “In a worst case scenario, the neighborhood would be isolated.”

While many agreed the food markets should be protected, some added that market representatives rarely interact with residents in responding to local challenges.

“What is the market’s involvement?” asked Rebecca Rosado, who directs The Point’s after-school program for young activists, ACTION. “It’s in their best interest to be involved.”

No representatives from the markets were at the community meeting. Afterward, produce market officials declined to comment on their flood plans.

At the community meeting, cooperation between the markets and residents emerged as a key need, along with sustainable backup power.

In planning changes to transportation, residents also called for easier public access to Hunts Point Riverside and Barretto Point parks and ferry service to reduce trucking and curb asthma.

The planners are expected to submit a preliminary plan to HUD in March.

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