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Hitting the wall: Flood of opposition to Army Corps’s West Side coastal resiliency plan

BY SOMMER OMAR | For more than a decade, extreme weather events have battered Lower Manhattan. In 2012 Hurricane Sandy plunged Downtown beneath as much as 10 feet of floodwater, robbing 44 New Yorkers of their lives, and wreaking economic havoc to the tune of $19 billion. In 2021, the National Weather Service issued its first “flash flood emergency” for New York City as its streets, subways and sewer system buckled under the heavy rainfall of Hurricane Ida. And this past September, a flash flood forced the closure of the F.D.R. Drive along Lower Manhattan, grinding transportation to a halt.

Each event is a grim validation of warnings about how vulnerable coastal cities are to the damaging effects of climate change.

Following Hurricane Sandy, Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study to determine how to improve coastal resiliency in New York and New Jersey in areas particularly vulnerable to storm surges like Sandy. In September 2022, the study culminated in a 569-page tome detailing the Army Corps’s record-breaking $52 billion plan to install storm-surge gates and roughly 12-foot-tall concrete seawall barriers along the coast between Battery Park and Hudson Yards to prevent water from breaching Manhattan’s Lower West Side. The shoreline would be unrecognizable, with a swath of concrete replacing views of the Hudson River and access to Hudson River Park.

On the other side of town, the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan is clear-cutting East River Park, which will then be raised and rebuilt above the flood plain. However, a similar approach apparently was not an option for the 25-year-old Hudson River Park, construction of which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars up to this point.

The Army Corps accepted public comments on the preliminary West Side resiliency plan until March of last year. Criticism abounded.

Metro Flood Defense, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public understanding of flooding risks in New York and New Jersey metropolitan areas, submitted comments. They represent a coalition of expert oceanographic, weather, climate and ecology scientists, urban planners, architects, advocates and social scientists. In Metro Flood Defense’s view, the Army Corps’s plan is “fatally flawed” because the plan “only protects 63 percent of the region” at risk of flooding.

The coalition further argues that the Army Corps’s plan leaves “many of the region’s major infrastructure systems exposed,” including subway entrances, LaGuardia Airport, the Statue of Liberty and the Hudson River and Brooklyn Bridge parks.

Disturbingly, Metro Food Defense said, the plan also “leaves dozens of communities and hundreds of thousands of residents — many of them in low-income and minority communities — unprotected from future flooding.” Social justice advocates have warned that this form of environmental discrimination amounts to “climate redlining.”

Metro Flood Defense and other organizations have advanced alternative proposals that incorporate more nature-based defense systems, and would scrap the onshore concrete barriers in favor of a more nimble flood defense system comprised of multiple layers of movable sea-gates, along with levees. However, installing sea-gates in New York Harbor would be costlier than the Army Corps’s scheme.

The Downtown community, for its part, has resolutely resisted the plan. Indeed, there has been a steady drumbeat of opposition and alarm since the Army Corps’s proposal was first made public.

On Feb. 3, 2023, Community Board 2, representing Greenwich Village, Soho and Hudson Square along the waterfront, issued a detailed resolution on the plan. The community board urged the Army Corps to, among other things, more clearly communicate and engage with the impacted communities throughout the planning process and to consider alternatives to the “concrete wall.”

On Feb. 13, 2023, members of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council unanimously passed a measure calling on the governor and mayor to establish a task force to coordinate resiliency efforts across federal, state and local government and ensure community input. The advisory council is comprised of every elected official whose district would be impacted by the Army Corps’s plan, including Congressmembers Goldman and Nadler; state Senators Kavanagh and Hoylman-Sigal; Assemblymembers Glick, Simone, Rosenthal and Fall; and City Councilmembers Marte, Bottcher and Brewer.

On Feb. 28, 2023 Community Board 1 similarly implored the Army Corps to better coordinate communication with state and local stakeholders about the resiliency plan. The Lower Manhattan board warned that almost “all community members do not favor” the concrete wall prescribed under the current plan that would “preclude visual and physical access” to the waterfront.

On March 6, 2023, Community Board 4, covering Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, followed suit, issuing a resolution stating that it “cannot support” a plan where the “effects of building a massive, unsightly wall along the western edge of Route 9A will cut off [members of community district 4] from not only the Hudson River but also from Hudson River Park.”

Dan Miller, chairperson of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, noted that the proposed concrete barrier threatens “the park and its viability.” He more pointedly added, “Find me anyone who wants a permanent wall.” Miller further stressed that the broader public may not be aware that such a proposal is working its way through the Army Corps of Engineers’ Rube Goldberg-like approval process or that access to the park is at risk.

Echoing a similar sentiment was Tom Fox, the first president of the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the predecessor agency to the present Hudson River Park Trust. A relentless advocate for public spaces, Fox noted, “There’s 17 million people who visit the Hudson River Park every year — that’s 17 million unhappy campers, they just don’t know it yet.” (In a March 2023 talking point in The Village Sun, Fox proposed an alternative coastal resiliency plan of his own.)

In the next several months, the Army Corps of Engineers will issue what’s called a “Chief Engineers Report,” which will reflect adjustments made to the plan after the close of the public comment period.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who chairs the state Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, has registered serious concerns about the current resiliency plan. She explained that, in the revised plan, she would want to see “more nature-based means of wave attenuation and shoreline protection” rather than an over-reliance on “hard structures,” such as the proposed concrete barrier. She added, “For a carpenter, all problems are solved with a hammer and a nail,” and that for the Army Corps, there’s a similar over-reliance on “putting up a wall,” rather than engaging in a “broader vision” of how to protect vulnerable coasts.

Experts are poised to review this revised report and will assess whether the new plan would protect a greater percentage of the region vulnerable to climate change without “climate redlining”; whether the revised plan incorporates additional protections for the effects of rising sea levels and other climate dangers beyond just storm surges; and whether community concerns have been addressed.

Advocates warn that the technical opacity of these reports and the process itself risks discouraging public review; in short, it’s hard for laypersons to know how to criticize a plan drafted by and largely for engineers, full of architectural and scientific jargon.

According to Fox, a veteran brawler when it comes to safeguarding public spaces, it’s imperative that the Downtown community remains vigilant. The Army Corps’s plan, as currently contemplated, presents a choice of coastal resiliency versus access to a treasured public park. A chorus of advocates and experts have cautioned that such a choice need not be made.


  1. Pete Pete January 25, 2024

    The Army Corps of Engineers seems to have a one-size-fits-all mentality; they are proposing a similar concrete wall on the Greenpoint waterfront across the East River. There, too, done with no consultation with the community.

  2. Jackson Jackson January 23, 2024

    Amazing article! Great background

  3. Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost January 21, 2024

    I fully agree that what happened to the Lower East Side park–even though I don’t live near there–is a monstrous tragedy. The results people have to put up with are tasteless and cruel. I’ve seen the video of the beautiful trees, at the height of their flowering, being cut down with mechanical saws and reduced to sawdust. The whole idea is abominable. I think someone should be sued–or whatever can be done to make sure this abomination doesn’t happen again. I understand the community came up with a viable alternative plan that was ignored.

  4. redbike redbike January 20, 2024

    Two comments about this article:

    First, the referenced weather event was “Superstorm” Sandy. There was no “Hurricane” Sandy. If you think this is quibbling about semantics, either you had no loss covered by insurance or you weren’t an insurance underwriter. Whether a storm is or isn’t a “Hurricane” is massively important.

    Second, visit A wealth of information is available, so don’t expect the page to load briskly. Specifically relevant to this article and the underlying topic, there’s a horizontal slider at the top / left of the OASIS map. Sliding it all the way to the left … and waiting … reveals Manhattan’s (also parts of The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn) shoreline in 1609. Virtually ALL of what’s Manhattan’s shoreline today has been borrowed. The proprietor wants it back. Can this be negotiated? Good question.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | January 20, 2024

      Per the National Weather Service:

      Hurricane Sandy – October 29, 2012

      Hurricane Sandy was the 18th named tropical cyclone of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season (June 1 – November 30). Sandy formed in the central Caribbean on October 22, 2012 and intensified into a hurricane as it tracked north across Jamaica, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas. Sandy moved northeast of the United States until turning west toward the middle Atlantic coast on the 28th. Sandy transitioned into a post-tropical cyclone just prior to making landfall near Atlantic City, NJ on the evening of Ocotber 29, 2012. For a complete summary of Sandy, view the National Hurricane Center Sandy Tropical Cyclone Report

      • redbike redbike January 20, 2024

        Thanks for the correction. “Hurricane” Sandy did occur, but it never got near NYC, which is what this story is about. Before the storm arrived here, Sandy’s winds had diminished such that the storm – though still massive – was no longer a hurricane; but its residual massive size justified “superstorm”. Sorry. (And this shouldn’t deter folks from checking out NYC’s original coastline on the OASIS page.)

  5. Tommy Loeb Tommy Loeb January 20, 2024

    It’s sad that all the elected officials concerned about the environment abandoned the Lower East Side and approved a $2 billion resiliency plan that destroys 1,000 mature trees and real grass and is replacing them with artificial turf, plenty of concrete and sapling trees that will take decades to grow.

    • Evan Evan January 22, 2024

      Say what you want about raising the park versus other options and, sure, spongier wave-mitigating wetlands should still be added — but don’t cry about the trees. For one, the city has to pay to replant a percent of the area of the cut stump, meaning one large tree leads to hundreds of 3-in trees planted across the city. Many of those trees were either non-native or not the right species to be planted along the coastline and probably planted under Robert Moses (not that old). Finally, many of the trees were sent across the river to be used as lumber by a local sawmill. Sure, you can’t use the park for a while but any plan would do that, and efforts to protect the trees would probably be ignored by contractors, leading them to die from compacted soil or other damage down the line (without replanting).

  6. Jon Keller Jon Keller January 20, 2024

    Hard for a layperson to evaluate…not surprising. Laypeople don’t seem concerned about the scientifically prospected temperatures of 140° and more (Stephen Hawking). Or if they are, they don’t act like it. The disruption of transiting away from fossil fuels will, If it ever happens on the scale and timeline necessary, it will make the (somewhat increased) hindrance to access the park look like being bathed in the amniotic fluid of prebirth! The solution: SHUT IT DOWN! Declare an emergency! Rebel for Life!

    • Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost January 21, 2024

      I’m sorry. I can’t understand what you’re saying. How is limited access to a park “like being bathed in the amniotic fluid of prebirth?” And what are you saying we should shut down?

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