Can NYC Infrastructure Cope With Floods, Intense Heat?

Fri August 29, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Sara Kugler Frazier

NEW YORK (AP) Flooded subways. Bridges deteriorating in the hot sun. Rising seas nipping at the edges of Manhattan.

Those scenarios are up for review by a panel of scientists, government officials and private sector representatives studying how the city’s infrastructure will hold up to climate change.

The Climate Change Adaptation Task Force met Aug. 12 for the first time as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to address global warming in New York City, which already includes orders to switch the city’s taxi fleet to hybrids by 2012 and to retrofit city buildings to meet greener standards.

Experts on the panel said the potential consequences of global warming could include more frequent storms, flooding throughout the city’s coastal and lowland areas, repeated blackouts on a power grid stressed to its limits and bridges that deteriorate under the heat.

“We have to adapt to the environmental changes that have already taken place, or that we can reasonably expect will occur because of climate change,’’ Bloomberg said.

The panel will begin its work by studying the city’s infrastructure to better understand the city’s preparedness for possibilities such as more catastrophic storms, hotter temperatures and a rising sea level.

“The city was built with an assumption of an environmental baseline, and climate change in many ways changes that baseline,’’ said panel co-chair William Solecki, director of The Institute for Sustainable Cities at Hunter College.

“Some of these transformations can potentially be catastrophic as large storms; others might be more subtle and difficult to discern over the short term,’’ Solecki said.

The mayor has asked the group to produce a report and inventory of existing at-risk infrastructure, plus plans to make those areas more secure, in one year.

The panel has also been asked to draft guidelines for new construction that take into account anticipated effects of climate change.

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