What Can We Learn from the Deltares Coastal Resiliency Report?

Posted on: October 15th, 2019 at 5:06 am by

Storm surge from Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 2012

The short answer is – not much.

Last week, the city released the Deltares Report, a 68-page review of the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project that had been commissioned by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Carlina Rivera in early September. The summary describes it as a “review of the concerns surrounding the ESCR project based on the public documentation of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), interviews with stakeholders of the ESCR project, and a meeting with the City agencies involved in the ESCR project.”

The elaborates on the relationship between the two dominant visions of the ESCR project – the “Preferred Alternative” plan (also known as “Alternative 4,” which was abruptly introduced by the city in October 2018), and “Alternative 3” (the previous plan which had emerged out of the Rebuild By Design initiative in the wake of Hurricane Sandy). For those familiar with the ESCR project, the Deltares report does not reveal much new information or settle prior concerns. Yet, perhaps some of the most significant conclusions to be drawn from this report are inferred by the remarkable absence of compelling evidence for either plan.

Photo: DDC

Summarizing his synthesis, Hans Gehrels (the Dutch scientist leading Deltares’ review) communicates his inability to sufficiently assess the Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS), and in turn Alternative 4’s relationship to other Alternatives:

A general issue found in this review was the relative lack of available information on several aspects of the ESCR project design. The FEIS is based on project development, calculations, impact assessment, and comparison of alternatives. Underlying documents describing these inputs, however, are not publicly available. The FEIS therefore contains important statements that cannot be evaluated.

What information was not provided to Gehrels, and what important statements about the ESCR project has the city made which Deltares was not able to evaluate? Three major points of uncertainty are identified within two sections labeled “Constructability and Scheduling” and “Reliable Coastal Flood Protection.” Respectively, these two sections address the primary reasoning behind the city’s adoption of Alternative 4.

On one hand, Gehrels discusses an internal city document known as the “value engineering report”:

The City states that according to their value engineering report, construction of Alternative 3 would be very difficult. The report concludes that Design Alternative 4 can be completed faster and with a greater degree of certainty. However, this value engineering report is not publicly available to demonstrate these conclusions.

This report underpins two of the major talking points the city has advanced in support of their “preferred alternative plan” – asserting that this version of the plan would not only minimize disruption to the FDR, but would expedite the process. However, the very contents of this report are not available for outside verification.

In the section, “Reliable Coastal Flood Protection,” Gehrels addresses the claim made by the city that “…the two Alternatives will provide the same level of protection to match FEMA requirements” – itself the “primary goal of the ESCR project.” The city’s assertions are based on work undertaken in 2015. Collected in a report identified as the “East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, Coastal Hydraulics Report, Arcadis, 2015,” this analysis was then extrapolated to support the 2018 version of the ESCR plan. However, Gehrels states that this report is not publicly available, “and therefore it is not possible to assess the methods used to extrapolate from the 2015 analysis to the 2018 proposed Alternatives.” Going further, he articulates that, “without an understanding of the extrapolation process it is not possible to validate the assertion in the FEIS that all Alternatives provide similar protections.”

While the Deltares report concludes with a series of recommendations calling for many of the same measures articulated by community members and advocacy groups (greater transparency, monitoring of adverse impacts, interim flood protection measures, and open space mitigation) – the public is somehow left with even less assurance as to the efficacy of the city’s current proposal for the ESCR project.

How are final decisions to be made when the city’s own outside scientific review report cannot even corroborate the crucial points in their argument for the “preferred alternative”?

Written by Bowery Boogie contributor Aidan Elias.

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