Monday, May 21, 2012

2012 Waterfront Conference Raises Sails for New York Waterfront Prosperity

The panel for "Adapting to Climate Change" 
At Friday’s 2012 Waterfront Conference at Chelsea Piers, sponsored by the Metropolitan Water Alliance, major stakeholders from New York and New Jersey explored ways to make the people’s waterfront accessible and useful while fostering new plans and initiatives that will guarantee the future health and prosperity of our waterfront and coastal areas.

Several panels brought together activists, government leaders, officials, analysts and scientists to discuss solutions, infrastructure changes and policies that are needed to confront climate changes along the waterfront.

Immediate Concerns
The imminent threat to the New York and New Jersey waterfronts are the rising sea levels. By the end of the century New York’s water levels will rise from 2 – 4 inches. Several factors are being scientifically tracked to support this fact, including melting polar icecaps and global warming. Rising water levels alone are not the big threat. When considering unpredictable storm surges that will surpass the levels, the stability and health of major coastal infrastructures are in jeopardy.
Caswell Holloway

Facilities that manage power, communications, sewers, water treatment must remain sustainable in the face of the worst circumstances. In this regard I was pleased to learn that New York is regarded as the international leader in rising sea level and storm surge preparation, as reputed by the office of Caswell Holloway, Deputy Mayor Of Operations New York City, who is working with various public and private agencies to outline steps for mitigating these issues.

Chris Ward
Speakers joining the discussion were Cynthia Rosenzweig, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Bill Solecki, Director, CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities; Robert Teetz, Vice President of Environmental Services, National Grid; Eddie Bautista, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance; Jared Snyder, Assistant Commissioner for Air Resources, Climate Change & Energy, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.  
The aforementioned agencies are aware that scientific data and related pipelines which deliver that crucial information evolve each year. To account for that flexibility of data, policies must be flexible as well, allowing New York to adapt quickly to new information.
Current Plans
Mark Lowery
Modifying existing sea walls and building new ones is not enough to account for storm surges and climate change. Developing policies to reduce fuel emissions will help slow climate change over the city, as will incentives like solar power and other green energy resources. Updating building codes and accountability are next on the bucket list. New York City has made it mandatory for properties to manage their own water supplies and surge plans. Equipment that an agency needs to maintain safe and healthy operations must be relocated on accessible upper levels or rooftops to preserve their integrity.

A New Way of Thinking
Other panels dealt with adapting to climate change exclusively. Panelists like Adam Freed, Deputy Director, NYC Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability; Randall Solomon, Co-Director, The Sustainability Institute at the College of New Jersey, Mark Watson, Environmental Research and Energy Resources Programs Manager, NY State Energy Research and Development; Mark Lowery, Cimate Policy Analyst, NY State Department of Environmental Conservation Office of Climat Change; and others entertained Q and A from moderator Chris Ward, Executive Vice President, Dragados, USA and presenter Ton Siemerink, Program Manager and Senior Management Consultant, City of Rotterdam. Topics included targeting flood zones and disaster prevention plans.

Adam Freed, Klaus Jacob, Randall Solomon
Klaus Jacob, Ph.D, Special Research Scientist, Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Observatory, Earth Institute and Professor, Columbia’s School of International Affairs, questioned building in known flood zones. “Let’s start with the FEMA Flood Insurance Program – it is a catastrophe!” states Jacob.

Klaus Jacob, Mark Watson
“In terms of long-term policy it has allowed us to settle in places we should not be allowed to settle in.” Jacob believes that while FEMA can help manage a crisis effectually, they could avert the crisis completely by planning to avoid it.
In addition, if you happen to own waterfront property because your “wife insisted upon it”, spend the ten thousand bucks to raise it from storm level, thereby avoiding fifty thousand dollars in damages and federal disaster relief that is sure to occur in an epic flood.

Whether or not Manhattan and other coastal areas of the city will become another Venice or just a flooded town is still being debated. With continued planning and partnership among government and private agencies, not only can the worst be averted, but New York may well prove that government is ultimately doing what many say it should do – protect the health and prosperity of it’s communities.

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