Competition Highlights Design Proposals to Prevent Future Storm Damage

Participants in the "Rebuild By Design" competition outlined their proposals to prevent damage from future storms.

By Christie Duffy

After Superstorm Sandy caused tens of billions in damages and left thousands displaced, international design teams are inching closer to the implementation of some ideas that would transform the Jersey Shore and urban areas and protect vulnerable areas from future storms.

“We tend to rebuild what was there. And that is not the right way forward,” said Henk Ovink, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development special advisor to Secretary Shaun Donovan.

The federally-backed, international contest was organized by President Obama’s “Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.”

Four of the 10 teams focused on New Jersey. The Blue Dunes team, from Stevens Institute of Technology and design firms WXY and West 8, propose building artificial barrier islands to protect the whole region, 10 to 12 miles off the coast. You can’t see them. You can’t build on them. But they’d be there for recreation and protection.

“You’ll certainly feel them, if you’re standing on the beach, because it won’t be like an ocean environment anymore. It will be a little bit calmer like a bay,” explained Professor Alan Blumberg of the Blue Dunes design team.

The project’s price tag? An estimated $30 billion to $40 billion. But design teams were told to think big and to come up with estimates of damage savings and economic benefits.

“Our project would definitely cost a lot of money. But then again, you wouldn’t have to protect Hoboken with as much infrastructure. You wouldn’t have to worry as much about Mantoloking. And all of Barnaget Bay,” Blumberg said.

Other design teams proposed protecting the ecosystem and communities by enhancing existing natural barriers and making man-made structures — like boardwalks and piers — stronger and more multi-faceted.

“These are all sand mines here. We’re interested in making it into a commercial and residential zone. Some of these creeks can be widened to store storm water,” said Professor Steven Handel of the Sasaki/Rutgers/ARUP design team.

Urban design plans, like one for Hoboken, propose stormwater management, using green spaces like parks, greenways and buildings to control water runoff. An idea for the Meadowlands involves building a more intricate system of berms and marshes, and increasing public access.

Speakers today stressed that rebuilding be financially feasible and protect lower to middle income communities.

Tomorrow, these 10 ideas will go before a private jury. And within a month, winners will be announced.

Does Gov. Christie support these transformative and costly proposals?

“He has supported it but at the same time has also asked that U.S. and the state departments and agencies to evaluate these projects and see what kind of funding comes with them so we can determine, can we actually realize them?” said Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding.

HUD says funding for big ideas will come, in part, from the $60 billion in federal Sandy aid passed by Congress, as well as from private and public funding sources.

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