The federal government's first-ever study of New York's flood-prone coastal regions should go beyond New York Harbor and the south shore of Long Island to include the Hudson Valley's riverfront communities, Sen. Charles Schumer said Tuesday.
"There's an urgent need for the federal government to invest in the safety of Westchester residents, its infrastructures, businesses and homes, and it's critical to mitigate future flood risk along the Hudson," Schumer said during a noon news conference at the Irvington waterfront, where superstorm Sandy caused extensive flood damage.
During the next two years, federal researchers will be assessing the coastal communities affected by Sandy, with the goal of preventing future flooding, Schumer said. The $20 million allocated for the study was approved late last month as part of a disaster relief bill for New York and New Jersey residents.
Although he said there was no indication that the Hudson Valley would be ignored by project officials, "We're here today to make sure they don't leave Westchester and the Hudson River out."
In the Hudson Valley, the senator said, Sandy left a trail of "millions and millions of dollars" in flood damage, including surges that broke through Newburgh's waterfront; forced evacuations in Kingston; flooded infrastructure in Irvington, Ossining and Yonkers; and devastated communities such as Nyack, Piermont and Haverstraw.
Irvington Mayor Brian Smith said Sandy's storm surges crashed into the village at heights of 6 to 10 feet, flooding dozens of businesses and causing $200,000 in damage to public property alone. The tracks used by Metro-North's Hudson Line were underwater, a situation that must be addressed because "without the railroad, we really don't have much," he said.
Help from the federal government is critical because climate change is too big a problem for municipalities to handle on their own, Smith said at the news conference. And although Irvington's Bridge Street area endured for 100 years without water problems, it has been flooded twice in less than the past 12 months.
At Bridge Street Properties, which is the landscaped, waterfront home to more than 60 businesses ranging from popular restaurants, law firms and biotech companies to the headquarters for nationally known women's wear designer Eileen Fisher, the mayor said that some tenants talked briefly about leaving during the most depressing days of the recovery.
"It's just one example of what would happen up and down the river, on what has always been an economic advantage," he said.
In looking ahead, dealing with rising sea levels caused by climate change will lead to both "hard-engineered solutions" such as building seawalls as well as natural solutions such as creating reefs and wetlands that can both absorb the floods and slow the approach of future storms, said Andy Bicking, public policy director for the Poughkeepsie-based environmental group Scenic Hudson.
"We need to think of our waterfronts as regional resources," he said.
Schumer cited Scenic Hudson as one of the organizations that would be talking to the Army Corps of Engineers during its study of Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and the Hudson River. The 150-mile river ends south of lower Manhattan at the harbor and is linked to the ocean's tides.