A host of laws need rewriting
New structures that must be built along the coast should be elevated, they say, to allow periodic floodwaters to sweep in without causing damage to a building itself.
The draft report to be discussed over the coming months "is an important first step in developing a statewide framework to address the risks posed by sea level rise and coastal storms," said Adam Freed, who serves as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's deputy sustainability director.
City and state records show that the level of New York Harbor has risen by approximately 15 inches in the past 150 years. Gauges in the harbor have recorded the high tide mark rising by about 4 to 6 inches since 1960.
Citing international scientific estimates, the task force says the region can expect a further 2- to 5-inch rise in average sea level by as early as 2020. With the most pessimistic observers predicting the sea rising by a few feet by the end of the century, state officials and environmentalists are worried that some sensitive habitats and islands lining the region could be lost entirely, exposing the city and state to the full brunt of strong storms.
Among its 14 recommendations, the panel suggests specific changes to a host of laws now on the books, including state legislation governing wetlands protections, hazardous waste handling and shoreline erosion prevention.
Emphasis on 'soft engineering'
For instance, the task force suggests adding specific text to the state's Tidal Wetlands Act stating: "It is declared to be the public policy of the state to preserve and protect tidal wetlands and to prevent their despoliation and destruction, giving due consideration to the occurrence of sea level rise that will result in wetlands loss and migration, and to the reasonable economic and social development of the state."
And taking a cue from recent initiatives in New York City, the task force is calling on the state to undertake a complete review of zoning laws and building codes, including even fire and health codes, directing the development of New York's waterfront for decades out. Such changes would ideally "require consideration of sea level rise impacts in comprehensive plans for coastal communities," the 17-member task force says.
The group also calls for so-called "soft engineering" solutions to trump hard infrastructure projects like sea walls or tide gates. Worried that such major projects would be too expensive or that they may become overwhelmed by storms and the encroaching sea, they instead call for investments in expanding the size of salt marshes and barrier islands that may offer greater, longer-lasting protection at a much lower cost.
It is unknown how the incoming Legislature and Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo (D) plan to move forward with the findings and recommendations. The meeting to be held Monday at DEC headquarters in Albany is meant primarily as an opportunity to explain the particulars of the plan in greater detail and give the public a chance to offer their comments and suggestions. Comments will be gathered until Dec. 12 in time for officials to revise the report and submit a final draft to state lawmakers on Jan. 1.
"This also folds into the larger climate action planning process," said Marcell. "This is kind of going into more detail on what sort of impacts are going to have the largest potential costs to New York state. That process is a much longer process."
Real change is unlikely to come soon. A similar New York City team assigned to review building codes in order to enhance the city's energy efficiency and cut greenhouse gas pollution took over a year to complete its work, and implementation of its plan is expected to occur gradually over the next decade.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500