Debate Over Plans to Reduce Hoboken Flooding

Hoboken residents want to reduce flooding, but they don't seem to want a seawall as the solution.

By Brenda Flanagan

Hoboken floods. Sandy submerged the city under several feet of sea water, including Brian Battaglia’s furniture store.

“We flooded to about three feet here, so we lost everything on our ground flood. You know, it was traumatic. Still is,” he said.

So Battaglia’s keenly watching as Hoboken residents meet and review award-winning plans to keep the marauding ocean at bay.

Compare Sandy’s floodscape, to this defense plan that employs multiple surge barriers, flood water basins and runoff diversion tactics. Except nobody in Hoboken seems to want a seawall in their backyard or front yard certainly, not along the waterfront, blocking spectacular views of the New York City skyline.

“Any seawall or flood protection barrier that would prohibit access to the waterfront — to me — is unacceptable,” said Hoboken City Council President Ravi Bhalla.

“I think all the residents are in an uproar about it,” said Brooke Beck.

Enjoying the waterfront panorama at a local cafe, resident Beck rejects all five flood-control options offered by engineers.

“I think a Sandy is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime type event, so to build an eight-foot, or 10-foot or 15-foot wall to prevent that, it just doesn’t make sense to us,” Beck said.

At public hearings, residents also complained about so-called Concept A, which features a low wall running down Garden Street with its historic brownstones.

“We want to protect all of Hoboken, but it’s a narrow street, we weren’t flooded and you’re going to ruin the character of the neighborhood,” said one resident.

Engineers for OMA explained flood barriers don’t have to be bare concrete.

“It’s not just a wall — it can be in certain elements — but it can also have for example, a terraced condition. It can grow and shrink in width, and be inhabitable where you could sit on top of it,” said OMA Architect Laura Baird.

“I think it’s important that we work as a community to kind of go through the process and understand what the options are, because the advantage of the waterfront alignment is it can protect everyone in Hoboken, but are we ready to make that compromise?” asked Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

This project won a $230 million federal grant and the state DEP’s now reviewing all five options, making changes and winnowing them down to just three to be presented Feb. 18. Construction wouldn’t even start until 2019.

“I think they’re going to be proposing significant changes, so it’s going to be quite different,” said Zimmer.

“We have a golden opportunity, an opportunity we’ll never have again in this town to protect from something that was really awful. To walk away from it just doesn’t seem right to me,” Battaglia said.

So the debate continues. But one thing seems certain: with coastal storms becoming more frequent, it seems unlikely city officials will leave $230 million sitting on a table, unspent.