More than ten years have passed since Hurricane Sandy exposed New York City to devastating coastal flooding. Several cost-effective flood megaprojects, including levees and storm surge barriers, have been presented to the NY-NJ region to prevent future billion-dollar disasters, but none have moved forward. Researchers studying climate adaptation have put forward theories about why so few cities have built cost-effective flood protection megaprojects, but a recent study by Princeton University and Rutgers University analyzes real-world cases to uncover actionable insights.
The study, published in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, thoroughly reviews two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood megaprojects in Rhode Island that emerged simultaneously after an active period of hurricane activity around the 1950s. After extensive archival research, the researchers pieced together a detailed explanation for why one project advanced to completion while the other did not. Their findings suggest that the storm surge barriers are politically challenging because of modern environmental laws that encourage oppositional views to legally challenge projects. They also find that the general public tend to favor alternative options that are more aesthetically pleasing, cheaper, and faster to implement, even if they do not offer the same level of protection. To address these limitations, the authors provide suggestions for how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers might improve their planning process.