Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hurricanes and Staten Island

Three years ago, before Sandy hit, I remarked in this Blog that Staten Island was a prime location for its wrath. Why? It has been before and things have just gotten worse. In the early 1950s there were several massive Hurricanes and flooding went from the shore to Hylan Blvd. From Hylan in it was 2-3' underwater. Of course then there homes were at best summer shacks and the City had not improved anything.

Then in the late 50s and early 60s I was the NY City Lieutenant Lifeguard in charge of Ocean Breeze section. Every day, for almost 5 years, I watched as the Verazzano was built on one side and as people moved into the swamps that had been the buffer in the last Hurricanes on the other side. Sooner or later they too would be under water again.

Then in the 80s they moved Staten Island Hospital and a Mental Health clinic to the middle of the very same swamps. Worse yet, the road along the beach was raised so that if water even came across it, the water would then stay in this swamp land, now several yards below what was sea level. It became a natural pond, and when the next hurricane came it would become a veritable salt water swimming pool, unfortunately filled with homes. And the homes were filled with people who would not leave.

So along comes Sandy. We sadly know what happened; death and destruction.

Now the New Republic bemoans the situation. They state:

Of the nine buyout committees that sprung up on Staten Island after Sandy, three—Oakwood Beach, Ocean Breeze, and Graham Beach—would successfully organize a state-managed, federal buyout. In April of last year, Barbara Brancaccio, the press representative for the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery, said that the State had no intention of purchasing the entirety of Staten Island's eastern shore, limiting the eligible communities to those already selected. For those left out of the buyout the only sure thing is that their homes are worth less than they were before the storm made residents and policymakers aware of the true cost of living beside a rising sea. Here on the damp fringes of what was once the most powerful city in the world, Staten Islanders are retreating from the coast because they have recognized the limits of the built environment's ability to buffer them from a changing natural environment, and the limits of the government's ability to buffer them from unfair and inequitable development.

The problem is that no one should ever have been allowed to build there, especially the hospital.  I had seen the destruction to sea grass in the 50s, water knee deep on Hylan Blvd, and God knows how deep in the salt marshes.

So who is at fault? Most likely the City, whoever that may mean, who frankly should have known better. It had happened before, it happened in Sandy, and yes it will most likely occur again. The outer harbor is a dangerous body of water as tides come and go and as the winds can raise the water even higher. Midland Beach is a wonderful recreation area.

The ocean is a risky place to put anything at sea level. Sea level just is not reliable. People should question why building permits were even give for such locations, at least that is my opinion. This is not a first, it not the beginning of the end, it is an ongoing well-known process.