"As part of the survey of places around Newtown Creek impacted by Hurricane Sandy which your humble narrator knows that no one else cares about, mainly because ether are in Queens, after leaving the Borden Avenue Bridge Hank the Elevator Guy and I drove over to the Dutch Kills turning Basin at 29th street. The smell here, a mix of raw sewage and petroleum, was overpowering. There was some street flooding, but this is fairly normal for 29th street. As mentioned, nobody cares as it?s Queens."
-- photo and text from Newtown Creek historian-photographer
Mitch Waxman's website, The Newtown Pentacle
"Never have environmental, economic and equity concerns been so clearly aligned for Newtown Creek and New York City. It will take equal parts planning, investment and leadership to better prepare for extreme weather and storm surge on Newtown Creek."
-- from the Newtown Creek Alliance's
"summary of impacts and issues on Newtown Creek"
"[J]ust this past summer . . . scientists demonstrated that seas were rising faster near the northeast United States (for reasons having to do with alterations to the Gulf Stream) than almost anyplace on the planet. They had described, in the long run, the loaded gun, right down to a set of documents describing the precise risk to the New York subway system. . . .
"Having great scientists, and taking those scientists seriously, are two different things, of course."
-- from Bill McKibben's NYRB blogpost,
"A Grim Warning from Science"
Among environmental noodges -- that class of people who have made it their business to try to get the public to understand the dire environmental crisis that we've largely brought on ourselves -- perhaps none has been more eloquent and tireless than Bill McKibben, and in a moment I want to return to a blogpost he put up yesterday on the New York Review of Books's website, "A Grim Warning from Science," about the stark issues highlighted by Hurricane Sandy. But first I want to share with you a more local and therefore more specific and detailed accounting offered today by the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA).
A REPORT ON THE IMPACT OF HURRICANE SANDY
ON NEWTOWN CREEK AND THE SURROUNDING AREA
The NCA, peopled and supported by some of the best people I've come across, is a community-based group that grapples with the issues related to the deadly toxicity that has qualified Newtown Creek (which forms the western part of the border between the NYC boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn) as a Superfund cleanup site (when the EPA finally gets around to it, a wait certainly not apt to be accelerated under a President Willard) -- including ways of controlling and reversing the deadly pollution level in the creek and its tributaries as well as in the highly populated (mostly working-class) neighborhoods that line the creek; and to sustain and improve the level of livability in those neighborhoods while also preserving and upgrading the industrial base of the are to make it possible for people to continue earning a living.
The NCA's work on those issues not only impacts the NYC metropolitan area (for one thing, a large portion of the city's trash and wastewater are transported into the Newtown Creek area for disposal) but serves as a laboratory for urban areas facing similar problems all over the country. Today the NCA people issued a promised follow-up "summary of impacts and issues on Newtown Creek," which has such direct bearing on so many aspects of the environmental issues to which attention has been called by Hurricane Sandy that I thought readers might be interested in the whole thing. There are abundant links onsite.
This week is a week of extremes for our region, and for us on Newtown Creek. While the G train tunnel under the creek remains flooded and impassable for commuters and residents, this weekend, 50,000 participants in the ING New York City Marathon will tromp over the Pulaski Bridge from Greenpoint to Long island City. While life seems normal in many upland neighborhoods, on the industrial waterfront there are businesses facing serious flood damage and cleanup for some will take weeks.
During Hurricane Sandy, Newtown Creek experienced extensive flooding. By Monday at high tide before the storm landed, some companies already had their bulkhead underwater, and there was flooding in certain low streets. The industrial zone of Newtown Creek is separately sewered, and storm drains lack tide gates, allowing the creek water to creep up behind properties, no matter how prepared they might be. During the storm surge, flooding extended several blocks back from the creek.
For some, the creek receded Tuesday, and that was that. For others, it is not so simple.
The stories from around the creek during Sandy are astonishing. Some companies had their inventory, offices and vehicles flooded, and their regional operations are on hold. Several properties had feet of standing water at low points and loading bays and for three consecutive high tides. Others for even longer. Companies reported sewer backups mixing with floodwater, making cleanup even more?complex. Basement and ground floor electrical systems were destroyed. Entire pallets of inventory simply floated away.
During the peak of the storm, the raised foundation of the Newtown Creek sewage treatment plant had become an island, with floodwaters several feet deep on all surrounding streets up to McGuinness Ave. We owe a debt of gratitude to the DEP staff who kept the plant online under these stressful circumstance, and have been working all week to restore service to the full 15K+ acre area (which includes Lower Manhattan) that drains to the plant.
In the days since the storm, an energy crunch is being felt in the area. Electric service in the industrial zone has been spotty, and so companies are using generators. The gas shortage being felt by drivers is also felt by Newtown Creek companies operating on generators. The harbor was opened yesterday to traffic, including the fuel barges that bring fuel to distributors on the Creek, but it is unclear if suppliers on the NJ coast are fully operating to supply our distributors. As of yesterday, navigational access to the upper tributaries of Newtown Creek was still limited due to an out-of-service bridge that was flooded during the storm.
The environmental impacts of potentially contaminated floodwater is a concern to companies engaged in cleanup as well as area residents. Sandy was made mostly of storm surge, and only minimally of rain (our rain gauges picked up less that a half of an inch of precipitation throughout the storm). NCA's CSO alert system indicated that sewer overflows probably began in the afternoon on Monday, subsiding the following day. One of our more intrepid members did visually confirm sewer overflowing in the upper tributaries. But pollution from sewer overflows is only a fraction of the concern.
The industrial zone along the creek is home to dozens of brownfield sites, toxic release inventory sites, state superfund sites and known groundwater plumes of oil and solvents. The creek itself is a Federal Superfund site currently being extensively sampled and analyzed by consultants working with the EPA.
The hard truth is we don?t fully understand nor are we fully prepared for the area-wide effects of flooding on contaminated sites and sites that store hazardous materials. This is true for Newtown Creek, and it is true for other Significant Maritime Industrial Areas throughout the city. After the flood, we observed oil sheens in the street and on the water, plus lots of gloopy material left behind in the flood plain. Gas stations, fuel depots, oil-based heating systems and parked vehicles were flooded. How can we even begin to attribute an oil sheen to its source?
Staff from EWVIDCO and the Maspeth Industrial Business Association put boots on the ground to check in with their waterfront business partners, providing support on accessing FEMA and filing insurance claims. Questions surrounding how to handle murky floodwaters were answered Thursday afternoon, when Governor Cuomo and then the NYC Department of Environmental Protection announced that regulations restricting water discharges would be temporarily suspended, allowing folks to pump out floodwater back to the creek. The NYSDEC and NYSDOH provided links about recovery from flooding and spill.
It?s simply not enough. We need to hear from our local EPA team that they are on the job and are looking at the composition of the floodwater and residue. We need to know what DEC Spill Response learned this week. We need to hear from waterfront businesses exactly where and how the flood moved. We need the message from our elected officials that Newtown Creek is an important resource that provides essential services in this city, and that the environmental vulnerability that we saw here during Sandy will be addressed. This is our backyard.
Never have environmental, economic and equity concerns been so clearly aligned for Newtown Creek and New York City. It will take equal parts planning, investment and leadership to better prepare for extreme weather and storm surge on Newtown Creek. As EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck stated Wednesday, ??multi-year improvements need to be made. The situation illustrated the need to clean up urban waters and the benefits of a comprehensive Superfund cleanup."
One of the things that makes Sandy different from Katrina is that it?s a relatively clean story. The lessons of Katrina were numerous and painful?they had to do with race, with class, with the willful incompetence of a government that had put a professional Arabian horse fancier in charge of its rescue efforts.McKibben notes the impressive performance of "Science and its practical consort Engineering" in providing advance information of what was likely to happen, noting:
Sandy, by contrast, has been pretty straightforward. It?s hit rich, poor, and middle class Americans with nearly equal power, though of course the affluent always have it easier in the aftermath of tragedy. Government officials prepared forthrightly for its arrival, and have refrained from paralysis and bickering in its wake. Which allows us to concentrate on the only really useful message it might deliver: that we live in a changed world, where we need both to adapt to the changes, and to prevent further changes so great that adaptation will be impossible.
For some years now, various researchers have been predicting that such a trauma was not just possible but almost certain, as we raised the temperature and with it the level of the sea -- just this past summer, for instance, scientists demonstrated that seas were rising faster near the northeast United States (for reasons having to do with alterations to the Gulf Stream) than almost anyplace on the planet. They had described, in the long run, the loaded gun, right down to a set of documents describing the precise risk to the New York subway system.The "bravura performance" of the computer modelers, says McKibben,
should shame at least a little those people who argue against the computer modeling of climate change on the grounds that "they can't even tell the weather three days ahead of time -- how can they predict the climate?" But in fact "they" can tell the weather, and in the process they saved thousands upon thousands of lives. They can tell the future too. No serious climate scientist believes that the sea will rise less than a meter this century, unless we get off fossil fuel with great speed; many anticipate it will rise far more. Think about what that means -- as one researcher put it this week, it means that any average storm will become an insidious threat.It's possible that we can spend enough money to somehow protect Manhattan," says McKibben, "and it's possible that we can't."
It's impossible to imagine that we will be able to protect, say, the Asian subcontinent, or the Pearl River delta of China, or any of the other crowded places imperiled by rising seas. In fact, the last year has seen even more serious flooding in Bangkok and Manila, and a recent study found that New York was only seventeenth on the list of cities at risk of such flooding, with Mumbai and Calcutta leading the league.
Having great scientists, and taking those scientists seriously, are two different things, of course. Our climate scientists -- led by James Hansen, who lives in New Jersey and does his work from a NASA lab on the Upper West Side -- have trotted patiently up to Capitol Hill every year for the last two decades to present their latest findings, and been entirely ignored, the fossil fuel industry having purchased one of our political parties and cowed the other. But it may be that firsthand experience will accomplish what academic studies have not -- Governor Andrew Cuomo, for instance, was forthright in his declarations this week that climate change was a ?reality,? that we were ?vulnerable? as a result, and that we would need to adjust to deal with it.
But that adjustment can't just be building new seawalls, because we'll never catch up. The same researchers who predicted events like this week's horror have warned that unless we cease burning coal and gas and oil the planet's temperature -- already elevated by a degree -- will climb another four or five. At which point ?civilization? will be another word for ?ongoing emergency response.?
Building new defenses will be expensive but relatively popular; cracking down on the fossil fuel industry will be a great trial, and indeed Cuomo has an important test approaching. He must decide at some point in the coming years whether to allow fracking within the borders of the Empire State. A lead author of a very weak report from his Department of Environmental Conservation is a climate denier; after Sandy it will be interesting to see if the governor asks for a new study from people in touch with actual science. I think he might; as powerful as the fracking lobby is, the sight of a hundred apartment and office lobbies filled with seawater is more visceral. We've been given a warning by science, and a wake-up call by nature; it is up to us now to heed them.
No one (with any real power to do something) gives a damn. That's why nothing has been done, and nothing will be done. Be happy if you're over fifty and have only 40 years, or so, left to live. And if you've been having children and encouraging them to have children, then I suggest you turn them into fish.#
My ex-husband's uncle was the mayor of Loveladies on Long Beach Island for a long time, and he was environmentally conscious. He spent his years in office fighting the developers who wanted to build on the dunes, and once he retired, up went the expensive houses.
South Jersey's been living on borrowed time for decades, and it was only a matter of time before they took a direct hit from a hurricane. (They're lucky it was the off-season, evacuation would have been a lot harder.) The barrier islands are too ecologically fragile to support the kind of development they've seen -- I mean, they're just big sand bars, and they've been moving all along.
I remember during Bill Clinton's presidency, there was an attempt to impose a new federal flood insurance rule that any beachfront house (not waterfront -- just beachfront, which is a much smaller number) destroyed by more than 75% could not rebuild in the same location. Common sense, right? The howl went up from the doctors, lawyers and other wealthy people who owned the beachfront properties, and they quickly withdrew the proposal. Too bad.
They should move everything back at least a half-mile and let the protective sand dunes further reclaim the beachfront. But I'm not optimistic:
LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP, N.J. -Some environmentalists say New Jersey should consider not rebuilding everything lost to Superstorm Sandy.
U.S. Geological Survey scientist Jeffress Williams says that rising sea levels and changing weather patterns make it likely that the coast will be hit by more frequent destructive storms.
He and other shoreline advocates say officials should consider restricting development to reduce the harm storms can do. They suggest relocating homes and businesses farther from the ocean, building more seawalls and keeping sand dunes high.
And in other news, now we know why Springsteen fan Chris Christie was being so nice to Obama!
NEW YORK ? NBC is doing a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy featuring some artists native to the areas hardest hit.
Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi of New Jersey and Billy Joel of Long Island are scheduled to appear at the concert Friday.
The telecast will benefit the American Red Cross and will be shown on NBC and its cable stations including Bravo, CNBC, USA, MSNBC and E! Other networks are invited to join in.
The concert will be hosted by Matt Lauer. It will air at 8 p.m. Eastern and will be taped-delayed in the West.
Other performers include Christina Aguilera, Sting and Jimmy Fallon.
By the way, another nor'easter is headed this way for Election Day. Whee!
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It seems former President George W. Bush isn't too worried about giving Mitt Romney some bad press just before the election. As Steve Benen noted, the contrast between how Bill Clinton is spending his time these days and Bush couldn't be more stark -- A tale of two former presidents:
Just this week, former President Bill Clinton has campaigned for President Obama in Florida, Ohio, Minnesota, Colorado, and Iowa. Today, Clinton will hit the stump for Obama in Wisconsin and again in Ohio. By most measures, the former president has become Obama's most popular and most effective surrogate.
And then there's Clinton's successor.
[George W. Bush] will spend Thursday in the Cayman Islands, delivering the keynote address at the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit. As Romney struggles to convince voters that he understands their economic struggles, having the previous Republican president reminding them of the questions surrounding Romney's financial dealings in the Caymans is beyond unhelpful.
Yes, as we first discussed in September, George W. Bush, with just five days remaining before Election Day, is headed to one of the most politically inconvenient locations possible for Mitt Romney: the Republican will deliver the keynote address this evening at the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit.
In case anyone's forgotten, Romney ran into a little trouble over the summer when we learned he has stashed cash in the Cayman Islands, and played fast and loose with the facts, hoping the public won't realize that Romney is using the Caymans as an apparent tax-avoidance scheme.
Which reminds me -- has anyone asked Romney about his secret tax returns lately?
Fat chance of that happening. Romney's been running from reporters asking him questions he doesn't like for months on end now.
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Yet another last-minute lie from Mitt Romeny, this time about the supposed panacea of horizontal drilling.
Responding to growing outrage, Mayor Bloomberg reluctantly canceled the annual marathon scheduled for Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have no power, heat or water.
First responders are still recovering bodies of victims.
The city is not ready to celebrate.Seems like the right thing to do.