Engineers Warned of North East Storm Surge Dangers in 2009

At a 2009 seminar in New York City convened by the American Society of Civil Engineers, corporate, academic and government engineers warned that a devastating storm surge in the North Eastern region of the country was inevitable and presented detailed measures to counter it.

Participants in the seminar urged officials to install surge barriers or tide gates in the New York Harbor to protect the city. Their views are contained in 300 pages of technical papers, historical studies and engineering designs, copies of which the society provided to The New York Times. Installing such barriers would be costly and take years to build, so it’s likely that they would not have been in place in time to prevent destruction from Tropical Storm Irene last year or Hurricane Sandy more recently.

“Scientists and engineers were saying years before Katrina happened, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen, folks. Stop putting your head in the sand,’ ” said Malcolm Bowman, a professor of oceanography at the State University at Stony Brook who spoke at the conference and is an editor of the proceedings.

“The same thing’s now happened here,” Professor Bowman said.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has expressed doubt about such barriers and whether the benefits would outweigh the costs which some estimates put at over $10 billion.

“I don’t think there’s any practical way to build barriers in the oceans,” he said on Thursday. “Even if you spent a fortune, it’s not clear to me that you would get much value for it.”

According to Professor Brown the most workable plan would involve a roughly five-mile barrier from Sandy Hook, N.J., to the Rockaway Peninsula while a smaller barrier would stretch across the top of the East River to protect against surges from Long Island Sound. East River barriers might rise from the ocean floor using hydraulics as a threat approached, and the larger barrier would require locks and sluiceways to allow ships and water to pass during ordinary times.

The technology is already being used around the world, including in the Netherlands and on the Thames in London. Several American cities have versions of the structures, and a barrier surrounds St. Petersburg, Russia.



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