New Jersey Gets New Green Flood Prevention

The state’s flood prevention program includes green infrastructure that other cities in the U.S. have passed over.

Part of the new Hoboken flood-proofing plan is a 7-to 8-foot-tall barrier protecting Weehawken Cove.

Part of the new Hoboken flood-proofing plan is a 7-to 8-foot-tall barrier protecting Weehawken Cove.

The governor of New Jersey recently announced that the state finalized the plan for its $230 million flood prevention project, launched in the wake of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, and that it includes less-used green infrastructure practices.

The system will shield the low-lying land around Weehawken Cove and Hoboken waterfront, including NJ Transit’s Hoboken Rail Yard, which was particularly vulnerable to flooding when Sandy hit. Governor Phil Murphy called it “a reasonable, cost-effective system that will protect the city’s residents from flooding from the next major storm.” As expected, the plan calls for the construction of bulkheads, floodwalls and seawalls. More significantly, it also calls for green infrastructure elements.

The new green features include grassy berms—raised areas of land separating two pieces of flat land—that can both keep out floodwaters and function as green community areas during nicer weather. They include bioretention basins, which are shallow depressions landscaped to slow and treat stormwater runoff through natural methods like evapotranspiration from foliage and microbiological breakdown of petroleum pollutants encouraged by mulch. In a similar vein, the plan will include swales, channels filled with biological materials to slow rainwater progress.

“Hoboken’s residents and businesses must be protected from flooding and other residual effects of future storms,” said Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla. “This alignment will help protect our city and support our economic goals. We believe that Hoboken can truly become a national model for innovatively dealing with the impacts of global climate change. I thank Governor Murphy, the administration and our federal partners for moving this project forward.”

A Rebuild by Design initiative, sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will pay the $230 million necessary for the new project. Rebuild by Design funds and encourages projects that both protect flooding-vulnerable areas and create infrastructure valuable to residents. Their projects span the U.S., Central America and Europe, and include waterfront redevelopments, mobile home park renovations and plaza redesigns.

The plan is especially significant in contrast to the flood-protection program recently debuted in Texas.  The $23 billion to $31.8 billion Coastal Barrier Alternative plan relies largely on gray infrastructure like floodwalls, floodgates and pump stations to prevent and reduce flooding. It’s a far more traditional approach to flood protection. Local environmental groups like Bayou City Waterkeeper have criticized the plan for causing undue environmental impact while potentially not protecting enough vulnerable areas along the coast.

Some residents of Hoboken are equally dissatisfied and frustrated by the length of time it has taken to get the new plan approved. Hurricane Sandy hit the coast six years ago. Plan development has stalled since then. Local politicians are optimistic about the plan and believe it will be finished by its completion date.

“As the former Mayor of Hoboken during Superstorm Sandy, I am incredibly grateful to Governor Murphy and his administration for prioritizing the public safety and resiliency of our region with this carefully evaluated decision,” former Mayor Dawn Zimmer said in the governor’s report. “It ensures that Rebuild by Design will remain on track for completion by 2022, protects the operations of our state’s critical transportation system and enables substantial commercial economic development to move forward.”