Downtown leaders Press City On storm Protection $

Downtown Express photo by Josh Rogers The Slavin and Sons building in the South Street Seaport Historic District is still boarded up with an “X,” after Hurricane Sandy damage more than two years ago.

Downtown Express photo by Josh Rogers
The Slavin and Sons building in the South Street Seaport Historic District is still boarded up with an “X,” after Hurricane Sandy damage more than two years ago.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  Out of the billions of dollars that the city is receiving for resiliency and recovery after Sandy, Community Board 1 is wondering why such a small percentage of that money is being spent in its district — one of the hardest hit areas.

The city has received $4.21 billion dollars of federal money, and out of that — less than one percent, about $1.5 million — will be geared toward a feasibility study for better protections for part of Lower Manhattan. The study is part of an estimated $10 to $20 million package for Downtown.

At the Mon., Jan. 12 meeting of C.B. 1’s Planning Committee, members asked Daniel Zarrilli, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, about funding directly for their district.

“Specific investments in C.B. 1 between the business programs and the housing programs, it’s probably in the $10 to $20 million range,” said Zarrilli. “Infrastructure and other city services, it’s a little harder to pin down exactly, geographic boundaries, because some things serve citywide needs.”

For C.B. 1 members, who lived through Sandy, this was not welcome news.

C.B 1 member Marco Pasanella, who owns a Seaport shop, said that the neighborhood has no more protection against a storm like Sandy more than two years later than it did the day before it hit.

“We’re vulnerable,” he said. “As a property owner, as a business owner, as a resident, I feel very vulnerable. I feel that we’re on borrowed time.”

C.B. 1 Chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes said there were seven feet of water in the Seaport — more than any other part of Manhattan.

“We’ve got to do something,” said Pasanella. “We’ve got to find new money.”

The majority of the money that the city got will go towards housing, Zarrilli explained. Programs for housing, such as Build It Back, which helps people rebuild their homes, were $2.5 billion. Another $117 million went for investment in citywide business programs and money also went for planning and administration, although Zarrilli did not specify how much.

“We have a lot of work to do and I wouldn’t want to short change any of that. We’ve made some good progress but it is early days and there’s a lot more that we are doing,” said Zarrilli.

Around $630 million went for coastal resiliency for New York City, he said, but that was also including money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2013, HUD had a resiliency design competition for areas affected by Sandy called Rebuild by Design.

One of the winning entries was the proposal of a series of protective measures that would create a type of “U” around southern Manhattan. It was dubbed the “Big U” after the Bjarke Ingels Group, which designed it. Lower Manhattan was divided into three parts, or compartments, and HUD only funded one.

The funded section, with $335 million, is from E. 23rd St. to Montgomery in the Lower East Side. There is no funding as of yet for the other two sections.

Zarrilli said, “That was the moment when the city knew we have an unmet need for coastal protection here in Lower Manhattan.”

He said that the city has “started thinking about creative ways that we can move that ball forward even knowing that we didn’t have construction dollars.”

There were no sour grapes the other part was funded and Hughes said, “We’re happy for our neighbors north of us.”

However, there is a need for resiliency measures in C.B. 1.

“We haven’t heard of any concrete plan,” said Hughes. “Not even a feasibility study for C.B. 1.”

Hughes asked Zarrilli what the city is planning in the short and middle term. Pasanella suggested a rapidly deployable flood barrier, which costs $1.5 million, to surround the entire Seaport.

“The city is absolutely aware of and committed to Lower Manhattan,” said Zarrilli. “There’s a lot at risk here, whether it’s the tunnels … critical housing, there’s medical facilities, there’s of course economic activity of global importance that happens here in Lower Manhattan, critical energy and communication facilities … as well as historic districts and cultural institutions.”

Hughes also brought up that as much as $18 million that was supposed to go to C.B. 1 through a competition called Game Changer was no longer coming to the district. The New York City Economic Development Corporation launched the Neighborhood Game-Changer Competition in June of 2013. It was aimed at areas hit by Sandy to spur economic growth.

Hughes said that community board only found out in December that it wasn’t getting the money.

The city is spending $3 million for a feasibility study from Montgomery St. down to the Battery, said Hughes.

“If you look at, half of it’s above Brooklyn Bridge so it’s really a million and a half dollars for a feasibility study,” said Hughes, who emphasized the fact that two people drowned and died in Lower Manhattan as a result of Sandy, one in the Financial District and one in Tribeca.

C.B. 1 member Tammy Meltzer said that while she is glad to hear about resiliency projects that other agencies are doing, such at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, she wondered about other effects of those measures.

“I am delighted to see them covering the subway, I am delighted to see the doors on the tunnel, I am delighted for all of that up until the point where we have four feet of water moving further up West St. because, as they have all said in every presentation, water finds it own path,” said Meltzer.

I don’t see anything about this in study or plans, said Meltzer.

“It is petrifying to me,” she said. “We need money and consideration.”

“I’ve heard it’s so complicated down here in southern Manhattan and it’s going to be so expensive, but that’s not an excuse not to begin the planning process with concrete milestones,” said Hughes.

The committee passed a resolution that called for interim solutions, such as rapidly deployable barriers in some of the areas, such as the Seaport, increase the feasibility study to all of C.B. 1 up to Canal St., and called upon Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials to ensure that Lower Manhattan is provided funding for resiliency in a timely manner.

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