At the board’s monthly meeting last Wednesday, Sarah Dougherty, program associate with the Lower Manhattan-based Waterfront Alliance, spoke about the importance of promoting resiliency, sustainability and accessibility to New York City waterfronts.
She noted that CB5 actually has a waterfront along a small chunk of Newtown Creek.
The Waterfront Alliance has created a certification program called the “Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines,” or WEDG. The guidelines encourage developers to meet higher standards, specifically for waterfront development.
“We really want designers and developers to be going through a process where they understand their site,” she said, “both the community needs and the climate and environmental needs.”
Dougherty noted that Hunters Point South in Long Island City is a WEDG-certified project. The Waterfront Alliance is also working to implement an eco-dock at Gantry Plaza State Park using the same guidelines.
The nonprofit also works with waterfront landowners to help them make their sites more sustainable. Options include increasing wetlands, taking out concrete bulkheads and creating better public access to the shoreline.
Even industrial waterfronts, which are not required by zoning or law to meet these standards, can be more sustainable, Dougherty said.
“Climate change and sea level rise are growing risks that are making living and working on the waterfront more expensive,” she said. “We spend over $2 billion in annual flood insurance claims through the National Flood Insurance Program each year.”
Making the argument that communities need to think about their flood risk now, Dougherty said even inland neighborhoods are at risk when sea levels eventually rise.
The Waterfront Alliance created five categories for the WEDG: site assessment and planning, responsible siting and coastal risk reduction, community access and connections, edge resilience and innovation.
Dougherty said while the single most important thing to reduce risk is not build in a floodplain, the group recognizes that it’s still happening. That’s why they’re offering guidelines on how to build better and more resilient on waterfronts, like elevating a site and making it more structurally sound.
The difference between the WEDG and what is required by the city, she said, is that the city only requires builders to think about current flood risk.
“We require that you not just think about your current flood risk, but that you also add additional elevation based on future sea level rise into that equation,” she said.
So far, the entire Brooklyn Borough Board and seven other community boards in Manhattan and the Bronx have taken the WEDG PLedge.
The board will continue the discussion in the Land Use and Environmental Services committees.
Walter Sanchez, chair of CB5’s Land Use Committee, said the board has been trying to work with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on public access at an aeration facility along Newtown Creek in Maspeth.
But he noted that DEP has “shut down” those conversations. He asked the Waterfront Alliance to start up that dialogue again.
“We can look into that,” Dougherty said.
Editor’s Note: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of this newspaper.