With new online mapping tools and more planning in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Hudson River waterfront can continue to develop -- but with better preparation for future weather disasters, planning experts said Thursday.
"Now that we've had three in 14 months, it really has made people stand up and take notice," said Jeff Anzevino, senior planner for Scenic Hudson, a Poughkeepsie-based environmental group that organized the event and is creating a sea-level website that will allow the public to simulate the pace of rising tides in their neighborhoods.
Anzevino was one of more than 100 local officials, community leaders and environmentalists from the Lower Hudson Valley who gathered Thursday to discuss the new realities created by tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy.
Tidal surges from the deadly Oct. 29 storm hit the Hudson Valley riverfront with flooding that reached 6.5 feet. Solutions are possible, Anzevino said, as he explained how one Newburgh restaurant along the shoreline coped with water that rose to 4 feet high. The owners taped up electrical outlets, used sandbags and elevated equipment by putting it on cinder blocks.
"We came out good. The lesson learned is prepare, prepare, prepare," said Anthony Ruggiero, Peekskill's director of planning and one among a dozen presenters who offered updates on both development projects and post-Sandy cleanup.
Looking forward, the city will begin construction of a mile-long shoreline stabilization project next spring that will run from Peekskill Landing to the Peekskill Yacht Club.
A common refrain among the speakers was that they face many unknowns as they continue to assess the damage caused by Sandy, which claimed 60 lives statewide, five in the Hudson Valley.
The state is still taking stock of the 97 sites used for camping and launching boats and kayaks along the Hudson River, said Scott Keller, trails and special projects director for the state's Hudson River Valley Greenway.
"There are so many critical things going on with recovery that we haven't been able to get to a lot of the them," he said. "We're still evaluating."
He said the goal, however, was to repair facilities such as the kayak area at Croton-on-Landing Park, which "took a hit but looks OK," and be prepared to open them by spring.
In looking at how riverfront properties develop in the future, "a more appropriate use of flood-prone areas should be for parks and recreation uses," said Westchester County associate planner Paul Gisondo.
During his presentation, he showed photographs of waves crashing over the bulkhead wall in Irvington, an area that is part of RiverWalk. That county project is creating 50 miles of continuous waterfront trails, promenades and sidewalk connections running through 14 municipalities in Westchester and is 60 percent complete.
New segments are in the works, including a trail in Yonkers at the JFK Marina and the Waterfront Park in Dobbs Ferry. While there has been some damage, the recovery is under way on other portions, Gisondo said, adding, "RiverWalk, like Sandy, is all about rebirth."
The climate change forum was the fifth and last in a series that Scenic Hudson has been conducting since 2011. In December, it will move on to creating sea-level task forces in various communities, starting with Kingston.
Other co-sponsors of the forum were Historic Hudson RiverTowns, the City of Peekskill and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
For more information, visit the organization's website at scenichudson.org.