Environment / Food

Flood protection funds aren’t enough, say advocates

Care of Penn/OLIN

An artist’s sketch shows what the Hunts Point waterfront could look like with federal and city funding to create jobs and protect the shoreline.

But city officials argue $45 million is a good start

Residents, advocates and a prominent union leader worry that Hunts Point isn’t getting the focus it should from federal and city officials to help safeguard it from future storms that could potentially cripple the city’s food supply and flood the neighborhood.

At the second in a series of public meetings at The Point on Aug. 19, city officials announced they have narrowed their focus on how to spend $45 million in federal and city funding to two key areas: building barriers around the food distribution markets and other parts of the shoreline and creating a backup energy grid to keep the markets’ refrigeration systems working in the event of flooding. Last year the federal government announced it would provide $20 million to help implement measures proposed by a team of planners and engineers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, to protect Hunts Point from flooding and create jobs. Mayor Bill de Blasio later pledged $25 million in city funds to complement that amount.

But many who attended the meeting were skeptical, arguing that Hunts Point’s share of the federal funds isn’t enough to have much impact. Of six vulnerable areas the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development has pledged to invest in protecting around the metropolitan area, Hunts Point’s $20 million share is the smallest. Manhattan’s shoreline between 42nd and 57th streets is slated to receive $335 million for upgrades; Hoboken, New Jersey will get $230 million; the Meadowlands will receive $150 million ; Long Island’s south shore has been promised $125 million; and Staten Island, which suffered major damage from Hurricane Sandy, was allotted $60 million.

A representative from the mayor’s office urged the audience to be patient and focus on putting the federal and city funding it will receive to good use.

“There is money,” said Jessica Colon, the mayor’s senior policy advisor of recovery and resiliency. “There’s $45 million dollars. Here it is.”

The planners who devised the Hunts Point/Lifelines plan estimate that their proposal to create jobs, build a new energy grid and construct barriers to prevent flooding, could cost over $800 million.

Community Board 2’s Economic Development committee chair Maria Torres said not enough of the $45 million is destined to help the depressed local economy because the firms likely to be contracted for the work will bring in labor from outside the neighborhood rather than employing residents.

“We don’t have a lot of engineers in Hunts Point,” Torres said. “Is there a way for them to have to spend some of that on the community?”

Others said that although coastal protection and energy are needed, they also want to see practical solutions for local families, such as designated evacuation hubs and an educational component so young people can learn to steward the local environment.

Although representatives from the mayor’s office and the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC) touched on ambitious longer term plans like micro grids, they said there are much more affordable protection measures that can be implemented sooner, such as building backup generators and raising refrigeration systems off the ground floors in the food markets. But Kellie Terry, former executive director of The Point, questioned the value of the short term measures.

“We don’t agree with backup generators,” said Terry. “It’s a bandaid over the bullet hole.”

The EDC’s vice president, Julie Stein, reminded the audience that the backup energy grid and the shoreline protection measure were both key asks of the Hunts Point Advisory Working Group, a task force of more than 40 Bronx residents and organizations who have worked with city officials on a plan.

“The group felt very strongly about these two,” Stein said. Although a sea wall to keep out rising water from the East and Bronx rivers would provide the best possible protection for the waterfront, she added, it would be more realistic, for now, to build individual protective walls around specific buildings.

“The shoreline is long so there is an expense associated with it,” Stein said.

Audience members responded by letting out a collective sigh.

Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, who represents Hunts Point, urged the audience to remain patient with the process.

“This is just the first step,” said Crespo. “Our kids will be in this working group one day.”

But that was scant assurance for some.

“Tourists are New York City’s biggest money maker and Hunts Point feeds them,” said Danny Kane, president of Teamsters Local 202 which represents 1,300 workers in the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market.

“If we got flooded, the whole city would suffer,” said Kane.

The city estimates that upgrades will be implemented by 2019. No further public meetings are currently scheduled.

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