That Big Red Hook Project?

Hold on a Moment!

(This article first appeared in The Brooklyn Ink)

Rendering by the firm AECOM demonstrating their building plans in Red Hook

On September 13, AECOM, the multinational engineering firm, unveiled plans for a massive and ambitious construction project on the southwest Brooklyn Waterfront. According to the proposal presented at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, more than 49,000 housing units would be constructed in Red Hook and Sunset Park, and the #1 subway line would be extended underwater to reach the harbor, bringing three new stations into Red Hook.

In his presentation, Chris Ward of AECOM posed a question to the city. Expecting another million residents in the next decade, he asked, “where will they all live?” The AECOM project, he said, would include about twenty five percent affordable housing and help generate jobs and revenue for the city. According to the New York Daily News, the AECOM proposal also projected a “replacement or reconstruction of public housing developments that are now home to 6,000 residents.”

In conclusion, Ward invited input from the community on his company’s proposal. So The Brooklyn Ink spoke to some experts and community members to gather an early sampling of their impressions, and so far, they seem worried.

Here are three of their concerns.

A RISING SEA

In 2012, Red Hook, half of which lies ten feet below sea level, was one of the areas worst affected by Hurricane Sandy. It is a small neighborhood of about 11,000 people in Southern Brooklyn, and is surrounded by water on three sides, which increases its vulnerability in the face of rising sea levels due to climate change.

By the turn of the century, there will be a seventy-fold increase in the possibility of storms like Sandy, according to Dr Klaus Jacob, a geophysical scientist at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. This means that such a storm could occur once every ten years.

With predicted sea levels rising to between six to eight feet over and above the tide, Dr Jacob suggested that the way to build is to “essentially invite the water” and work with it, “rather than keeping it out” with dikes and levees. AECOM proposes to use berms and mechanical flood control devices, but according to Dr. Jacob’s research, these solutions are not viable over the long run. This was demonstrated, he argued, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the flood protection system in New Orleans, causing widespread flooding in the city, according to Dr. Jacob’s research study published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

While Dr. Jacob cautioned that the AECOM plans he had seen weren’t detailed enough to make a considered judgment, he said that “any waterfront protection,” such as the floodgates and berms mentioned in the AECOM proposal, have “a finite height, and even with future modifications (raising the levees) it will eventually be overcome by storms combined with sea level rise.”

“I am surprised that AECOM follows the pattern of satisfying short-term needs vs. heeding long-term sustainable resilience,” Dr. Jacob said. “Retreat from the waterfront is the only real long-term adaptation solution that I can think of. This project, even if it is well designed to be ‘safe’ for many decades to come, ultimately almost inevitably adds long-term risk exposure and puts more burden on future generations.”

LOCAL FISHERIES

Robbie Giordano, a resident of Red Hook and a fisherman with a degree in Fisheries and Marine Biology, expressed concern for the striped bass that use the Hudson and the buttermilk channel for spawning. “Fish come here from all along the coast to spawn. Some come right up to the shoreline. So this construction could affect the food and the fishing. There are a lot of species of animals and birds and plants that make their home here in Red Hook. I wonder at the ecological impact this will have.”

National Wetlands Research Center’s study on the striped bass showed that changes in rivers, muddy waters, acidity and exposure to suspended clay and silt causes mortality to striped bass larvae. However, according to Dr. Jacob, if the subway tunnels were to be bored rather than excavated, then they should not have a direct impact on the striped bass or the water quality.

LOCAL CONCERNS

According to AM New York, Alex Washburn, a Professor of Resiliency at the Stevens Institute of Technology and a resident of Red Hook, responded to Chris Ward of AECOM by saying that he wished the residents of Red Hook had been consulted on the proposal. “We’re not a community that takes orders from the outside. We’re a community that has gone through a lot …We’re a community that understands that the future requires change. But it will be on our terms….”

According to the same AM New York report, “City Councilman Carlos Menchaca echoed those sentiments and slammed what he described as a ‘slick, expensive proposal’ that ‘pretends to foster dialogue. AECOM’s proposal is a dead-end sales pitch. Greenwashing a development fantasy with elaborate graphics and splashing words like ‘resilience’ and ‘equity’ isn’t good enough. The false premise here is that Williamsburg-style market rate condos on the waterfront are how to build sustainable communities in Red Hook and Sunset Park.”

Reacting to AECOM’s claim that the subway line would make 1 million jobs in Manhattan accessible to the residents of Red Hook, Robbie Giardano flared up. “If we wanted access to a million jobs, we’d be in fucking Manhattan! Most people here have a job in Red Hook and they’re gonna lose that job because they would be forced to move out.” Giardano predicted a steep hike in rents in the area following the construction work.

Looking at these preliminary soundings, it seems that in terms of addressing local and scientific concerns, AECOM may have its hands full.