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What New York’s Seawall Means for Staten Island’s Survival

Staten Island is getting a seawall — a $615 million dollar, 5 mile seawall. I spoke with Rob Freudenberg, who deals with climate resiliency in New York, about what this barrier means for New York’s future in the face of climate change. (0:13)

FOLEY 1: So, Rob, welcome to Uptown Radio, thank you so much for joining us today.


Thank you. (0:01)

FOLEY 2: So what is the Staten Island seawall?


The Staten Island seawall is a project that is going to build a wall across a five mile stretch of Staten Island’s eastern shore. It will be a wall inside essentially a dune, so it will be covered in sand and have a walkway on top and it’s going to protect the area behind it up to 20 feet of storm surge. (0:25)

FOLEY 3: Mayor de Blasio’s office said that the Staten Island seawall can withstand a 300-year-storm. What does that mean?


When someone says, ‘A one in a three hundred year storm,’ in people’s minds, they picture that this is only going to come around in another 300 years. In actuality, it’s a probability of a storm occurring each year.

So I think in an effort to simplify something and make it easier for people to understand, we’ve made people complacent about storms and given people a false sense of security. (0:31)

FOLEY 4: Is even referring to something like Sandy as a once in a 100 year storm or a 1 in 100 chance storm, is that even still accurate?


I think probably not going forward, I think we’re going to have to re-calibrate these probabilities. Science aside and research aside, what we need to decide as a city in New York or any municipality throughout the region is what are we comfortable planning for? We know these storms are getting worse, we know they’re going to become more intense, so what are we comfortable building for in the future? (0:31)

FOLEY 5: So is this the first seawall that New York is building?


New York City is surrounded by seawalls in a lot of different locations. What this is is is one of the newest seawalls, and highest seawalls we’re building in the city. This is good, this is progress that we’re building better things in the wake of Sandy but there are still questions about the long term. These are built for storms, not for sea level rise, flooding, itself, so i think we have to figure out in the case of areas that will be permanently flooded by sea level rise. And then what do we tell the communities behind these pieces of infrastructure — how safe are they? How real are we being with that communication?


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