With natural flood protection gone and the climate changing, Newark plans to be more resilient

Published: Apr. 05, 2022

Newark is hardly what most people would think of as a Jersey Shore community vulnerable to the kind of flooding that destroyed beach houses and businesses during Hurricane Sandy.

But much of the city is surrounded by water. And Sandy’s storm surge submerged its Newark Bay shoreline in 2012, temporarily shutting down the east coast’s busiest container port and knocking out the huge Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission plant.

And with 95% of some Newark neighborhoods covered by buildings, roads, and other impervious surfaces, runoff from rainfall is a frequent source of flooding that ruins basement apartments and waterlogs cars caught on low-lying streets.

“I can tell you from living in this neighborhood. When you know it’s going to rain, you have to decide where you’re going to park your car,” said Maria Lopez-Nuñez, deputy director of the Ironbound Community Corporation, a nonprofit that advocates for environmental justice and other forms of equity in that flood-prone section of Newark’s East Ward.

Lopez-Nuñez’s organization is part of a coalition with the City of Newark and three others in northeastern New Jersey, developing a plan to boost their resilience to flooding. The plan will be unveiled to the public Thursday during two Zoom meetings scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m. Tune into the meeting on Zoom or via Facebook live.

The concern over flooding in Newark has risen like the Passaic River in a rainstorm as climate change promises sea level rise that threatens the city’s eastern shore, along Newark Bay and brings increasingly severe storms that flood streets and homes. Many are occupied by working-class families of color threatened by mold and toxins in the water from the trucks and heavy industries that pollute their neighborhoods.

The coalition is known as Resilient Northeastern New Jersey and includes the Hudson County waterfront cities of Bayonne, Hoboken, and Jersey City; the state Department of Environmental Protection; and the nonprofit Hoboken-based HOPES CAP.

Newark officials say flooding is a concern in the Ironbound section, known for its nightlife around Ferry Street, heavy industry, and even heavier truck traffic from the nearby Port Newark container terminal and Newark Liberty International Airport.

“When we get flooded, it’s not just flooding, it’s toxic water that actually comes into the homes and neighborhoods,” Lopez-Nuñez said.

Arcadis, a Dutch environmental planning firm with offices in Fair Lawn, is a consultant to the group.

Carly Foster is a resilience planner with Arcadis and the Resilient Northeastern project manager. She said Newark is highly vulnerable to coastal flooding thanks to the disappearance of 5,540 acres of wetlands, a natural flood barrier formed over millennia along Newark Bay that was filled in over the past century to create land for the air and seaports.

According to Foster, the impervious piers, parking lots, runways, and roads created by all that fill — about a third of Newark’s total land area — make up their own toxic flood plain.

“The area that is now Newark Airport used to be wetlands, and in some cases, it was open water. There’s a lot of fill as well, and the fill is not really that high above tide,” Foster said. “The natural environment in this region had really evolved itself to be a big sponge, and we have taken all of that away.”

Officials said a draft of the plan incorporating input from Thursday’s meetings would be published later this spring. Participants in Thursday night’s meetings will break into smaller Zoom groups for more in-depth discussion and ensure that everyone has input.

The final plan will be comprised of both flood mitigation projects and policies. It will include barriers in the form of walls or earthen berms; newly created or reclaimed wetlands; additional or expanded stormwater basins or tunnels; and planning and zoning changes that could require inclusion of open space or less impervious surfaces to offset a building project’s flood impact, officials said.

Newark’s chief sustainability officer, Nathaly Agosto Filión, said the resiliency plan dovetails with the city’s ongoing update of its master plan, an effort dubbed Newark 360 that takes potential flooding into account.

Filión said the plan will incorporate planning and engineering models projecting to the year 2070. She said factors contributing to flooding include local growth and development, rising temperatures and sea levels, and the increased incidence and severity of major storms resulting from climate change. Some of those impacts were already being felt in unprecedented rainfall during Hurricane Ida in September.

“So it’s a very timely conversation,” Filión said.

She said Newark and other cities were awaiting guidance for implementing their projects from the DEP later this year. Funding, she said, could come from money earmarked for resiliency projects in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act President Joe Biden signed into law in November.

Filión said the plan would take care to enhance resiliency with minimal impact on safety, aesthetics, and other quality of life issues. She said the city’s economy would ultimately benefit from greater flood resiliency.

“We’re all very concerned about protecting the health and safety as well as the economic vitality of our region by ensuring we have resiliency policies in place,” Filión said.


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published this page in News and Politics 2022-04-06 02:49:55 -0700