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Op-Ed: $101 billion and our future on the line

Comptroller Scott Stringer held a press conference on May 9 criticising the city’s slow spending on storm resiliency.
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With more than 520 miles of coastline, New York City sits on the frontlines of climate change.

More than six years ago, our shores were slammed by Superstorm Sandy, causing 17 percent of our city to be flooded, costing an estimated $14 billion in damages. Homes were destroyed, businesses were washed away, futures were upended, and 54 New Yorkers lost their lives as a result of the unprecedented devastation the storm caused across all five boroughs — particularly along the Brooklyn shorefront.

Sandy was a one-in-260-year storm. But as sea levels rise and climate change accelerates, our city could see more ferocious storms as often as every five years. It’s happening all across the country, including in Houston, Texas, which just experienced three 500-year floods within a three-year stretch.

Considering the latest climatic trends, scientists now estimate that Sandy-like flooding could be a one-in-five-year event by mid-century in our city. Climate change is an emergency — and time is running out.

The bottom line is that we need to act faster because, make no mistake, that taking action is both a moral obligation and a financial imperative to get ahead of tomorrow’s storms. Any politician who talks about 20-, 30-, or 50-year plans to tackle this crisis isn’t matching the urgency of the moment.

That’s why my office sounded the alarm with a new report, revealing that our communities are still dangerously exposed to future storms. We found that of the $14.7 billion New York City received in federal funds to help Sandy survivors rebuild and to invest in resiliency — the city had spent just 54 percent as of March 2019.

Specifically, we have managed to spend only 20 percent of the FEMA dollars earmarked for city hospitals, just 41 percent of the money to protect NYCHA, and a meager 14 percent of the $470 million intended for coastal resiliency projects.

It’s understandable that city projects take time and federal red tape only makes it more difficult to navigate the myriad layers of bureaucracy, but too much is at stake to continue with our current approach. We cannot afford to kick this can down the road, and we certainly can’t leave this to another generation to solve. The time for action is now, because our shorefront communities are a critical piece of our overall economy.

My office ran the numbers and found that a staggering $101.5 billion in property value is located in the most flood-vulnerable areas of our city. That figure represents growth of more than 73 percent since 2010. And it’s New Yorkers’ homes, businesses, and entire life savings that are on the line. Here in Brooklyn, property values along the floodplain are projected to have increased nearly 40 percent in the past decade alone.

If we don’t move fast to protect our coast — and that means all 520 miles of our coast — then New Yorkers will be at the mercy of the next wave of disasters. Because there’s no question that another Sandy will come — and we can’t be putting shovels in the ground as the next storm barrels toward us.

That’s why we need the city to expedite resiliency projects and create a comprehensive citywide coastal resiliency plan that doesn’t just plan for 2050 or 2030, but for right now.

There should be resiliency retrofit loans made available for coastal communities and opportunities for residents to relocate. Substantive resources and energy should be devoted to optional neighborhood-based buyout programs for areas of our city that aren’t just vulnerable to superstorms but are getting hit by flooding events on a monthly basis such as Canarsie, Coney Island, and Gowanus. And we should strengthen the Build It Back framework so that we have recovery programs that are well prepared for the next superstorm.

Every day I feel the urgency of this battle when I look at my two little boys, Max and Miles, and think about what kind of world they will grow up in. They deserve a habitable planet and an all-hands-on-deck approach. Every child does, and so does every senior who built up our city and saw their life’s work washed away.

We need to create a more resilient New York for generations to come. Let’s take on this crisis for them and for our future with all of our might.

Scott M. Stringer is the New York City Comptroller.

Updated 11:25 am, May 23, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

Skeptic from Marine Park says:
It seems every doomsday prediction from Al Gore and his minion climate experts proclaimed for the past 20 years havent happen all we hear its happening its coming. Well the planet earth has experienced climate change for decades, centuries and thousands of years. All before humans supposedly started destroying the earth. Yes, we need to be more efficient and reduce pollution and use of plastics and other hazardous materials. Lastly, Antarctica experiences volcanic eruptions quiet often under the ice sheets which is main cause of the ice sheet melting. It not from human induced actions.
May 24, 11:23 am
Huma Abedin-Bin Laden from Muslim Sisterhood says:
I’m getting frigid just looking at Scott Stringer’s face!
May 24, 11:36 am
lk says:
People like the above commenters are what’s wrong with the world.
May 24, 1:01 pm
lk says:
Especially the racist POS with the islamophobic name. Get a life, bro.
May 24, 1:02 pm
Gary from Fort Greene says:
Life is cheap. Get two.
May 24, 3:56 pm
Double Talker from NYC says:
Stringer is a double talker. He's speaks to the crowd telling them what they want to hear. If he's in Bay Ridge, he's fighting for the rights of motorists and to preserve parking, if he's in Brooklyn Heights, he wants to abolish the BQE and cars altogether. Resiliency is his latest attention getting gimmick. Look how he throws in the whole "my kids and a better world" thing and "a responsibility to our elders" stuff. He even throws in the NYCHA card like he really ever involved himself with people there other then to jump on the occasional fanfare when the opportunity presents itself. Persuasion techniques is all. We need less of fakes like Stringer stringing us along, and more focused and educated individuals that stay on one project and move it forward.
May 25, 11:29 am
Tyler from pps says:
Stupid people commenting... Yeah, so you don't believe climate change is affected by human activity? Fine. You can have that little fantasy. But WHO CARES!? We still need to adapt to change. Period. By the way, the Earth will survive any cataclysm, it's the species living on it including humans that's in question. "The climate has changed before; it's natural" isn't really an argument for inaction. You know that right? I'm really really interested in what would be so bad about just committing to approaching the problem as a man-made problem. Necessary adaptation will be included. And if the scientists are right, yippee! And if they are wrong, it was just a little overkill and you get to gloat about the vindication (but the Earth will still be in better shape)
May 26, 12:41 pm

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