How will Roosevelt Island be protected? The City and RIOC will have to work together.
That was the subject of a meeting Tuesday evening (November 9) between members of the RIOC Board and New York City representatives, and it barely dented the surface of a 100-year problem.
Executives from various City agencies face the question of how to protect Coler Hospital, the long-term chronic care facility at the north end of the Island. It was hit hard during Hurricane Sandy (October 2012), losing power and suffering serious flooding that affected infrastructure located in the structure’s basement. But New York City only “owns” the facility’s footprint plus a mere five feet out from its outer walls. The rest is leased to New York State and is under State control (the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, or RIOC).
The NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, the NYC Economic Development Corporation, and the Mayor’s Office of Recover and Resiliency would prefer not to erect a high wall in that five-foot perimeter. It would box the building in, look more than slightly ridiculous, and would require complex openings for truck deliveries, the comings and goings of people, and would probably be a mistaken use of money available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The City representatives projected a presentation that showed some of the parameters in question as flood mitigation is considered.
Because the lease that gives this NYC land control over most of the Island, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation must be involved in whatever flood mitigation measures are implemented by the City.
Setting aside the possibility of the wall close by Coler’s outer shell, there appear to be two other possibilities: Raising the Island at the seawall surrounding Coler to create a kind of levee that would lift the promenade several feet higher than its present height. That’s one. The other is creation of a berm – essentially a pile of fortified earth that would hold back the water – somewhere in the space between the hospital and the seawall.
There will probably $60-80 million involved.
There’s no time limit on the available FEMA money, but there is a limit on the CDBG money that means a specification has to be developed in the next two years. The City hopes RIOC will cooperate. The RIOC Board faces the question of what to do for the rest of the Island, except for the Cornell property, for which plans have already been made by Cornell.
In effect, much of the Island needs to be shored up in preparation for the next “one percent” storm – a designation that means that, in any given year, there’s a one percent chance of a Big One. (There are also 500-year storms, but nobody’s facing that possibility just yet.) Nobody should be fooled by the notion that 100 years should now pass before the next Sandy. No. Every year, there’s a one percent chance, and it could happen this year or next, or in five years – after which the City hopes protection will be in place – RIOC permitting.