N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says city will rebuild with climate change in mind

POSTED: Friday, December 7, 2012 - 9:21am
UPDATED: Friday, December 7, 2012 - 9:25am

(CNN) -- With his city still trying to bounce back from the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said New York must rebuild "smarter and stronger and more sustainably."

Bloomberg told reporters New York will prepare for natural disasters better by revising building codes, changing zoning requirements in some low-lying areas and making sure infrastructure can withstand a Category 2 hurricane or a heat wave.

"Whether or not one storm is related to climate change or is not, we have to manage for risks, and we have to be able to better defend ourselves against extreme weather and natural disasters," he said.

Bloomberg said that New York, which has more than 500 miles of shoreline, will consider building berms, dunes, jetties and levees to protect against surging seawater during bad storms.

Such a system could be expensive. Improvements to the New Orleans' flood protection system, which is 130 miles long and includes sea gates and flood walls, cost $14 billion.

New York doesn't have unlimited funds, the mayor said.

"We have to live in the real world and make tough decisions based on the costs and benefits of risk-avoidance investments," he said. "Saying we're going to spend whatever it takes just is not realistic."

The mayor compared post-Sandy New York to the one that faced security challenges after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The city quickly built the largest counterterrorism operation of any city in the world, he said.

The Economic Development Corporation of New York will take the lead on drawing up "concrete recovery plans for the communities Sandy hit hardest as well as a specific and comprehensive action plan to prepare our city for the climate risks we face," Bloomberg said.

The mayor said the city has already strengthened building codes and will have to do so again. At the same time, he wants residents who rebuild to do so without being penalized if they build homes higher than current height restrictions.

He said the city also needs to look at communications and energy infrastructure.

The city should replace copper wiring for phones with fiber optics, he said, and cell phone towers need to have more than eight hours of backup power.

Deputy Mayors Linda Gibbs and Cas Holloway will look at how well the city was prepared logistically and how it reacted after Sandy hit, he said. Their report is due by the end of February, Bloomberg said.

"We may or may not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes, but I don't think it's fair to say that we should leave it to our children to prepare for the possibility," he said.

Sandy slammed ashore near Atlantic City, New Jersey, on October 29 after forming in the Caribbean and sweeping northward, killing a total of 182 people from Haiti to Canada.

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