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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Con Ed's storm plan went out with a bang. (Yesterday's planning won't stop tomorrow's storms)

Technically speaking, this time, you can't fault Con Ed.

The electrical utility planned for Hurricane Sandy and the storm surge of water it would cause. They preemptively cut power to areas of the city whose power lines were likely to be flooded (as detailed in this article from Bloomberg Businessweek News) and they had previous experience with extreme storms most recently last year's Hurricane Irene which cause a 9.5 foot increase in the water level near the substation. The utility was prepared to stop a storm surge of 12 feet reasonable thinking when considering that since 1821 the highest storm surge had been 12.5 feet.

But we clearly live in a climate changed world. What was isn't what's likely to be. The storm surge on Monday night rose to 14 feet.

When flood waters (not very deep once it crested and flooded through the streets, but deep enough) made it through the grates and into the 14th Street Con Ed Sub-Station that's when all the planning went down the drain.

The Bloomberg article said it best,
"It's like what happened at the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan last year — without the radiation."
As you should expect as a reader of this blog, I have a personal story about that sub-station; a relative worked there back in the day and took me by once when he had to drop off some gear. I won't wax on as I usually do, although there is a great story about cats and birds to be told, the point is there is an unbelievable amount of infrastructure on that site. Volatile vital energy infrastructure. That we need to live on in this city. Ask anybody who lives on a respirator or the much less inconvenienced but still frustrated people hanging on street corners in midtown trying to get a cell signal.

I hope the Governor's remarks about updating New York City's ability to withstand the climate we live in today and tomorrow is sincere. And most important that we the people get why we need to pay up to improve and prevent the situations.

Btw if you haven't seen it here comes the boom(starting from 22 seconds in), from the 14th Street Con Ed Sub-Station:

If you want to know why shutting power down is the best bet and why electrical power stations go boom when exposed to salt water (and you couldn't be bothered to read the linked article, here's your crib-note from the same article)

"When live electric equipment is inundated with salt water, electricity escapes every which way, sending sparks flying and damaging equipment. "You see a huge blast just from the short circuit," says Arshad Mansoor, senior vice president for research and development at the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry-funded research group."
So my two cents. Lets look at the cost of repairing the damage from this storm, plus the lost wages and tax revenue, and productivity (and lives directly attributable if any) project that forward based on the frequency and intensity of storms in the last 10-20 years and see if that comes close to what it cost to make long term fixes. One way or another we're gonna pay for this better it be less now vs more later.

Life's not so easy living Breezy - Hurricane Sandy brings hard facts home for Rockaway community, New York City in general

Breezy Point, Queens took a helluva a beating from Hurricane Sandy.

The winds turned bits of home and property into shrapnel, the storm surge brought floods in from the ocean overlapping the low land, inundating homes, drowning possessions and of course as has been widely reported causing fires to erupt surrounded by impassable roads, which sweep through the community on the Rockaway peninsula disintegrating over 100 homes and leaving smoldering foundations in it's wake.

Fortunately so far, there haven't been reports of any deaths as a result.

Most New Yorkers would have an easier time finding Staten Island than Breezy Point, (go ahead ask ten random New Yorkers to locate Staten Island on a map) Being the geek that I tend to be I knew where Breezy Point is but besides being gobsmacked by the fire and destruction I was way stunned at how many people live there. It's not what I remembered.

On summer days in the late 80's I'd ride my bike about 3 miles from the Flatlands/Mill Basin (yeh Mill Basin) area of Brooklyn where my grandmother's home is down along the Flatbush Avenue extension past the former Red Lobster, past the Toys R Us (usually past, there were frequent pit-stops at Toys R Us, hey I was a kid) out to Jamaica Bay. I'd then make what I still think is the most terrifying bike ride over a bridge in New York City, over the Gil Hodges Bridge stretching over the Jamaica Bay inlet between Brooklyn and Rockaway's slender strip of land.

Almost directly on the other side of the bridge is Jacob Riis Beach, in my opinion the best of the city beaches. The waves are higher at Riis Beach. I'd argue it's water and sand is cleaner than most of the city's beaches. It faces the ocean straight away unlike Coney Island which to an extent is behind Rockaway's eastern most point and that point is Breezy. Which is why I know of Breezy Point.

The first time I went, I did so simply because its words were otherwise unremarkably printed on the outskirts of the 1980's NYC Subway map. It seemed so distant. The map showed no landmarks. Not the ambiguous green geometry of a possible park or even a line to indicate roads. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to stand there, at the point drawn on the map, noteworthy enough at least to have been named but possibly consisting of nothing else. Being the literal minded kid I was, hoped for a pointed piece of sand to stand on, water on either side of me and what else, a breeze, at least.

Usually though, the summer heat and the 3 mile bike ride narrowed my focus and desire to nothing more than a quick splash in the accessible surf. It took many trips before I realized my Breezy Point investigation had never been conducted, so one day I made it the primary goal. Turning right off the bridge instead of my usual left toward Riis, I found a quaint street, a small fire station, and after a short ride not much else. The road as I recall stopped after less than a mile and became a sandy path. Curious as I was, a random sandy path into a neighborhood that didn't look a lot like me, wasn't so appealing to my teen-aged bike riding self. Yusef Hawkins was a constant presence in my mind when I rode into foreign outer borough neighborhoods. A few years later I convinced a girl friend that we should drive to Breezy Point. Of course I had an ulterior motive, besides whatever shenanigans we'd get into I wanted to see if we could get further in the car than I could on bike. Well a few minutes later I got my answer. The road had ended and we were surrounded not by water but tall grass. It was higher than the car, we couldnt even see the water but I suggested we drive deeper. We did and were rewarded by the sound of tires with no traction spinning out in the sand. She turned the car around and we high tailed it outta there.

That was all I knew of Breezy Point until Sandy hit. The number of tragically destroyed homes on inspired me to do some research and I learned it's a co-op community. Built from land purchased in the 60's but much of it developed only since the 80's.

A New York Times article from 2008 mention's this;
In 1960, when the neighborhood went co-op, Breezy Point was mostly a summer retreat for middle-class families from Brooklyn, particularly Marine Park, Sheepshead Bay and Flatbush. In the late 1990s, according to brokers, hundreds of residents began razing one-story bungalows and building year-round dwellings.
That might explain why I didn't notice so much community when I rode through. Unfortunately the community has a lot of undesired attention these days. Hopefully they can rebuild but I wonder how they will.

I watched this 20/20 report about Breezy Point.

Two ABC producers were there when the storm hit, to cover the folks who'd refused the mandatory evacuation. Several residents expressed a stand our ground philosophy. I understand that. I write this blog and more substantial live a good part of my life from the perspective of this land is my land, where I'm from and will remain. I understand that way of thinking. But ultimately I know in my heart outside forces come into our situations and influence our lives. We can stay put, but if we don't adapt to our new realities we won't last long. Whether the reality is gentrification or climate change.

Considering the storm was the result of climate change (leave comments if you can prove otherwise) and at-sea-level communities like Breezy Point, the outer banks in North Carolina and all around the world are going to be exposed to more intense storms and higher water levels, I can't help but wonder if residents are going to make long lasting solutions (building higher at least) or simply engage in the kind of cognitive dissonance that leaves people doomed to repetition.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

St. Teresa Church in Brooklyn with Dangerous Storm Damage

That didn't take long.

I was headed on bike to the bar to administer my cabin fever and I half considered doing some "Storm Surveying" post Hurricane Sandy.

After two blocks I saw the metal facade had been torn from St. Teresa of Avila Church on Classon Av and Sterling Place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (I know some folks insist it's Prospect Heights now but despite what googlemaps says, Washington Avenue is the boarder and where I stop tolerating real estate delusions).

I know the church well having attended it as a kid. It's part of the Catholic Diocese and it's towers were built in 1905. I've seen it take hits from storms, usually blizzards back in the day, but this is the most extensive damage I've seen the church endure in 30 years.

The street below is taped off but otherwise there isnt much way to know that the facade is dangling dangerously overhead so be careful if you're in the area.

Update 10/31/12 Councilmember Letitia (Tish) James has exressed that she's aware of the situation and it is being addressed, the street may be closed to avoid potential danger.