Editorial: Build NY State to withstand violent weather

The flooded Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, previously known The flooded Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, previously known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, in New York City. (Nov. 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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There's room for debate about the steps we should take to Sandy-proof New York State, but one idea ought to be noncontroversial: We should not be spending state dollars to build things -- roads, bridges, you name it -- that cannot stand up to our altered realities of frequent nasty storms and higher sea levels.

So Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) will introduce legislation next year to give that idea the force of law. The bill will say that any infrastructure project that receives state funding or state tax breaks must take into account the available weather science, to make sure that, once something is built, it can survive the elements. That includes sewage treatment plants. Sandy taught us that storms can knock them out and cause untreated sewage to cascade into homes and bays.

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Sweeney, chairman of the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee, has been thinking along these lines since his bill to create a sea-level-rise task force became law in 2007. That group made its report at the end of 2010, but its findings have lain dormant ever since. Its recommendations for Long Island and the Hudson Valley were not as strong as those for the City of New York, which pushed back against some of them, partly because it was engaged in its own long-range planning at the time.

The task force found that sea-level rise and flooding are already affecting the state's extensive coastline, all the way up to Troy -- and that there's a "very high" likelihood of powerful storms hitting our coastline.

So Sweeney's bill, still in the drafting stage, would protect state investments from being washed away. It would require all applications for state infrastructure funding to rely on flood plain maps, projections of sea-level rise and historical weather data. It would also offer nonmandatory guidance for local projects that don't receive state funds. Local governments would be wise to heed that advice.

Lawmakers should avoid ideological climate-change rhetoric and see this for what it is: a good example of post-Sandy prudence.

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