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Hurricane Sandy Prompts Question: Does NYC Need a Levee System?

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In the wake of the superstorm, a Dutch engineer shares his opinions on the future of New York Harbor.

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL As the US Northeast reels in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, discussions of cause and effect, and questions of what the major metropolitan areas can do going forward to protect their populations, have already begun.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's "100-year flood" remark -- referring to the statistically low likelihood of storms like Sandy and 2011's Irene occurring so close together -- has been making rounds since Tuesday. It's been joined by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's frank comments, including those made at a press conference yesterday regarding "strange weather patterns" and the necessity to "protect our infrastructure to the extent possible."

Forbes contributor John McQuaid was one of the first to write on the issue of preparedness, saying:

...the city has been only moderately proactive in prepping itself for the long-term risk posed by ocean floods, stressing how to respond when water breaches existing barriers rather than stopping floods altogether. That's not surprising, really, because there is little political incentive to prep for something that hasn't happened, even if you know it's coming at some point. Now it has.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Cuomo laid out the realities witnessed by New Yorkers as Sandy pushed into the area, and the consequences which will now demand action.

When you start to fill the subway tunnels with salt water-much of the Con Ed (NYSE:ED) equipment is in the tunnels, is underground-when hot electrical equipment hits cold salt water, that is a bad combination. And that is a design flaw, I believe, for our system now, if you anticipate these extreme weather conditions.

Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and other companies with data center in lower Manhattan found their equipment, though not in subway tunnels, was flooded too (see Impact of Hurricane Sandy on Wireless Service Providers). And for those who might doubt the role of climate change in this week's hurricane, an article from Businessweek does the concept justice by laying down the facts as well as offering the following sports analogy regarding human activity, global warming, and stronger, more erratic weather patterns:

"'We can't say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.'"

The question then becomes -- when New York City finds its footing in the following weeks, and for some, in the following months -- what feasible steps must be taken to protect the city from future 'severe weather' events?

"The rationale must be," Mathijs van Ledden tells Minyanville, "you must build something that has a good cost-benefit ratio."
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