The vast destruction wreaked by the storm surge in New York could have been prevented with a sea barrier of the type that protects major cities in Europe, some scientists and engineers say. The multibillion-dollar price tag of such a project has been a hindrance, but may appear more palatable after the damage from Superstorm Sandy has been tallied.
"The time has come. The city is finally going to have to face this," said oceanography professor Malcolm J. Bowman at Long Island's Stony Brook University. He has warned for years of the potential for a catastrophic storm surge in New York and has advocated for a barrier.
Invented by Bowman and his colleague Douglas Hill, two European engineering firms have drawn up proposals for walling most of New York off from the sea, at a price just above $6 billion.And it wasn't like they kept the idea a secret
Before the storm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration had said it was working to analyze natural risks and the effectiveness of various coast-protection techniques, including storm-surge barriers. But officials had noted that barriers were only one of many ideas, and they have often emphasized more modest, immediate steps the city has taken, such as installing floodgates at sewage plants and raising the ground level while redeveloping a low-lying area in Queens.
"It's a series of small interventions that cumulatively, over time, will take us to a more natural system" to deal with climate change and rising sea levels, Carter H. Strickland, the city's environmental commissioner, told The New York Times this summer.In the meantime New Yorkers have to hurry up and wait for someone to restore the basics of infrastructure. That cost ought to dwarf the $6 billion that Mr. Bloomberg thought too high a price.
Nor will a sea barrier only protect against one storm. This isn't the first time that New York has been hit by a catastrophic storm that caused major damage and loss of life. There were others in 1821, 1893, and 1938 to name just three of dozens.
But, that might take time away from thinking of ways to protect citizens from smoke filled bars and too much salt in their restaurant meals.