Economy / Environment

Funding against storms falls short, say planners

PennDesign/OLIN

A rendering of the future of Hunts Point’s waterfront as envisioned by the PennDesign/Olin group.

Federal and city money promised, but not enough

Hunts Point won a victory last year when a group of planners and engineers secured commitments of $45 million in city and federal funding for a project to protect the waterfront from catastrophic flooding. But, the planners say, that is a fraction of the amount it will take to protect the food distribution markets and waterfront industrial operations and to boost the local economy.

At a public informational meeting on Jan. 15 at The Point, representatives of the project dubbed Hunts Point/Lifelines updated about 50 residents and advocates on the status of their plan to ensure the peninsula stands a fighting chance against Mother Nature if water levels rise as expected.

Despite having received promises of $20 million from the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and an additional $25 from Mayor Bill de Blasio, the planners say that amounts to a drop in the bucket. In all, they project an investment of $815 million will be needed to complete the multifaceted plan.

“We did not get all the money we said it would take to do all these things,” said Ellen Neises, who is co-leading the project’s design process.

After a year spent visiting and studying the area and meeting with residents, advocates and business owners, the team settled on a plan that includes constructing a levee to protect the food markets, waste treatment and transfer stations and other businesses from flooding; creating a resilient back-up power grid; opening an expansive outdoor produce market; and building a pier along the East River shoreline for emergency boats, among other measures.

For now, the city’s Economic Development Corporation is slated to work with other agencies to decide how the $45 million total promised so far should be spent.

The planners say they want to be sure Hunts Point residents are heavily involved in all phases of the project, from the initial planning currently underway to employment opportunities they say will be created when first steps are implemented. But some advocates are still waiting to see if the city will allow the project to proceed as it was devised, with extensive community involvement, or if city officials will change it.

“There’s a lot of questions we have because there’s not a lot of clarity,” said Kellie Terry, executive director of The Point.

Before sending its own final plan to the federal government for approval, officials must respond to comments submitted by the public via a city website, recommending ways the money should be spent, although advocates worry that few residents used the website. For now, the planners say they will focus their efforts on continuing to seek additional funding, adding that they have already consulted with the Army Corps of Engineers, the local Teamsters, business owners from the food markets and private investors.

“There is tremendous interest in using this as a demonstration that it can be done,” said Neises.

Congressman José Serrano, who spoke at the meeting, said the new conservative majority in Washington could make it hard to obtain more federal financing, but he promised to fight for the money called for to implement the plan.

“We know that there can be another Sandy and we have to be ready for it,” said Serrano.

The Point will host meetings over the coming months to continue providing updates. The next one is scheduled to be held in February.

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