Thursday, February 7, 2013

Silt Part 2 - Fighting the sea

On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the tri-state area. I was lucky enough to be unaffected as I live on a hill in a central portion of Queens but I had two family members who lost power for a week. I also had co-workers who live in some of the most hard-hit areas of Brooklyn and Queens. Rereading Macfarlane's "Silt" chapter after Sandy was a sobering experience as I wondered what such a walk in parts of Queens or New Jersey would involve.

In the aftermath of Sandy, I've listened to radio interviews with Dutch engineers who have advocated sea gates and houses on stilts. I've read proposals about sea walls.  In the past week, Governor Cuomo has suggested a buyout of homes in areas likely to flooded again in the future. Once the state buys the land, the homes will be demolished and the land left empty. To quote Governor Cuomo, "there are some parcels that Mother Nature owns...She may only visit once every few years...but she owns the parcel and when she comes to visit, she visits."

However, people who live in flooded and devastated areas such as Freeport, Breezy Point or the Rockaways are reluctant to say goodbye to their communities and shore-based lifestyles. Mr. Cuomo accepts that man cannot ultimately defeat nature, which is why, for example, parts of the English coast are crumbling away without the UK spending billions on sea walls or sea gates (although London is protected by the Thames Barrier). Inhabitants of New York and New Jersey seem more willing to fight nature with man-made barriers, artificially-created natural shorelines, and architectural changes such as in the Netherlands. In the end, residents of NYC will have to decide how much money they wish to spend to protect and maintain their current lifestyles and residences.

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