Category Archives: Infrastructure

Adventures in Numbers

The streets in Phnom Penh are non-sequentially numbered and my attempts to find out why have come up empty. They do seem to follow a certain logic – at least in the eastern half of the city the streets are numbered lower to the north, running south at intervals of approximately 4+ per block. West to east is a little less clear. Main roads are typically referred to by name, not number (Sihanouk, Monivong, Mao Tse Toung) . A Phnom Penh Post article explains in more detail.

Previously Google removed street numbers from their maps of Phnom Penh in favor of the Khmer road names, which colloquially are rarely used: directions  are given by landmark and through conversation or turn by turn, not by intersection (Wat Lam Ka… Psar Toul Tom Pong… Riverside…)

The house numbers however, probably due to the elimination and then re-instatement of private ownership? … are another story, seemingly arbitrary and designed to confuse rather than direct. Coupled with a lack of street signs, finding an office or flat for the first time can become an unintentional and time consuming adventure… Most corners are not signed, leaving you to turn down a street to figure out which street you are on…

Often 3G phone maps don’t update quite fast enough to pinpoint your location. You end up doing laps around the block to find a specific house number or to locate the right ‘blue gate’ of your friend’s house. I drove down a street near my house to check out the variety of house signs and whether the street was signed with its number (it wasn’t). This made me realize that I navigate here by memory and have largely given up on using the street or house numbers to get around.

House Numbers + Coffee Shops

House Numbers + Coffee Shops

House Numbers + Coffee Shops

House Numbers + Coffee Shops

House Numbers + Coffee Shops

House Numbers + Coffee Shops

House Numbers + Coffee Shops

House Numbers + Coffee Shops

Laos approves Xayaburi ‘mega’ dam on Mekong

Source: BBC

Laos keeps saying that it has addressed the concerns of neighbouring countries, but this is misleading” Kirk Herberts on International Rivers

Laos has given the go-ahead to build a massive dam on the lower Mekong river, despite opposition from neighbouring countries and environmentalists.

A formal ceremony marking the start of full construction at Xayaburi would be held on Wednesday, the government said.

Countries downstream from the $3.5bn (£2.2bn) dam fear it will affect fish stocks and the livelihoods of millions.

The announcement came as leaders from Asia and Europe began a two-day meeting in the Laos capital, Vientiane.

Landlocked Laos is one of South-east Asia’s poorest countries and its strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours, says the BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Bangkok.

Xayaburi is being built by a Thai company with Thai money – and almost all of the electricity has been pre-sold to Thailand, our correspondent says.

Countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam point to a report last year that said the project should be delayed while more research was done on the dam’s environmental impact. Up to now, Laos had promised not to press ahead while those concerns remained.

Four dams already exist in the narrow gorges of the Upper Mekong in China but until now there have been none on the slower-moving lower reaches of the river, our correspondent says.

Laos deputy energy minister Viraphonh Virawong said work on the Xayaburi dam itself would begin this week, and hoped it would be the first of many.

“I am very confident that we will not have any adverse impacts on the Mekong river,” Mr Viraphonh told the BBC. “But any development will have changes. We have to balance between the benefits and the costs.”

Mr Viraphonh said he believed that concerns about fish migration and sediment flow had been addressed thanks to modifications to the original dam design costing more than $100m.

Sediment will be allowed out of the bottom of the dam periodically through a flap and lifts, and ladders will help the fish travel upstream.

“We can sense that Vietnam and Cambodia now understand how we have addressed their concerns. We did address this properly with openness and put all our engineers at their disposal. We are convinced we are developing a very good dam,” Mr Viraphonh said.

There was no immediate reaction from Cambodia or Vietnam, whose prime ministers are in Laos for this week’s Asia-Europe summit.

Under the terms of a longstanding agreement on the Mekong, there must be consultation between countries on any development on the river.

Environmental campaign group International Rivers said Laos’ promise to cooperate with neighbouring countries had never been genuine.

“The project has always continued on schedule and was never actually delayed,” the group’s Southeast Asia policy coordinator, Kirk Herbertson, told the BBC. “Construction on the project is continuing now because the wet season has ended, not because the environmental studies are completed.”

He said experts agreed it was doubtful that fish passages could work on the Mekong and “on the sediments issue, Laos is also jumping to conclusions”.

“Laos is playing roulette with the Mekong, and trying to pass its studies off as legitimate science.”

image of Jonah FisherJonah FisherBBC News, Bangkok

Bold, brave or perhaps a good way to bury the news? The Laos government chose to announce the dam would go ahead on the day it hosted one of the biggest summits in its history.

It won’t be hard to get immediate feedback. The prime ministers of two of the dam’s biggest opponents – Cambodia and Vietnam – are in Vientiane for this week’s Asia-Europe Meeting.

The problem both men have is that Laos has followed the letter, if not the spirit, of the 1995 Mekong Agreement. Under its terms, the countries that share the Mekong agree to prior consultations on the possible cross-border impact of any development on the river before deciding to proceed. Laos believes it has just done that.

Cambodia and Vietnam expressed concerns about the dam’s impact on fish migration and the flow of sediment downstream. So the Laos authorities brought in their own contractors and now say the problems have been solved.

Critics of the dam say many of the modifications to it are untested and the decision to proceed amounts to a huge experiment on one of the world’s great rivers.

Map

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Cambodia approves Lower Sesan 2 hydroelectric dam

SOURCE: BBC NEWS

Fishing in the Mekong River, Cambodia (file image)
Activists fear the dam will affect the livelihoods of people who live along the Mekong River

Cambodia’s government has approved a controversial hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Mekong River.

The joint venture involves Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese investment of $781m (£488m) and is due to be completed within five years.

The project in northern Stung Treng province is known as Lower Sesan 2.

Environmental campaigners say the dam will damage the river’s biodiversity and devastate the livelihoods and homes of thousands of people.

A government statement said the approval came after eight years of study into the possible environmental and social consequences.

It said Prime Minister Hun Sen had ordered new homes to be built for an unspecified number of families who would be resettled for the project.

Activist Meach Mean, of the 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN), estimated that more than 50,000 people would be affected by the dam.

He called on the government to organise a public forum to discuss concerns before going ahead.

“We are surprised by the approval,” he told AFP news agency.

“We don’t know clearly about the process to build the project. We are really concerned about the impact on the people’s livelihoods, water, and ecology system.”

In September, a report by UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi also raised concerns about the dam, saying communities did not believe they had been adequately consulted about the project.

Damming the Mekong River has causes widespread controversy in South East Asia.

Although hydroelectric dams allow countries to generate vast amounts of electricity, they also threaten massive changes to the ecosystem across the Mekong basin.

In 1995, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam set up the Mekong River Commission to help manage and co-ordinate use of the river’s resources.

Map of the Mekong River

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Monivong subway project postponed

Source: Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 27 September 2012
 Siv Meng
120927_05b

An artist’s impression of the subway’s project at the intersection between Monivong and Russian Federation boulevards. Photograph supplied

The proposed Russian Federation subway, near the Canadia Tower, to route traffic underneath Monivong boulevard has been postponed because of its potential impact on clean-water supplies and optic-cable networks.

“Now technical officials at Phnom Penh Municipality are studying many options in order to avoid traffic congestion there after the first drawing plan was cancelled,” said Long Dymong, a spokman at Phnom Penh Municipality, adding that they are studying and looking for other alternatives before drawing up the plans and estimating costs for this project.

“This project will be implemented after the Steung Meanchhey flyover project is finished. The funding for the subway project is from rental fees of land leased to the developer OCIC at Chroy Changvar for a satellite-city development,” he added.

Phnom Penh Municipality had planned to launch the construction project at the end of this year. The subway plans were complete, but they were cancelled after the study found that the project would hit both clean-water pipes and optic-cable networks. In the original plans, the subway is a 300-metre dual carriageway.

“The first drawing plan was cancelled because of the impacts mentioned,” said Touch Samnang, the project manager of Koh Pich Satellite City.

“Now we don’t know when the project will start, because we are waiting for the outcome of Phnom Penh Municipality’s study,” he said.

Sam Piseth, director of Phnom Penh Municipal department of Public Works and Transportation, declined to comment, saying he was busy.

“The construction of a flyover and subway in Phnom Penh is a good way to lessen traffic congestion, but the government should also make more effort to educate people about traffic laws because even with flyovers and subways, we will not be able to totally deal with traffic congestion unless people respect traffic laws,” said Dith Channa, general manager at VMC Real Estate.

“Although the traffic in Phnom Penh is getting better now, education about traffic law and punishment should be strengthened to everyone, not only to the poor,” he said.

“Now motor and car drivers, especially tuk-tuk drivers, drive in every lane. They don’t know which lane they belong to. That’s why the traffic is very bad.”


To contact the reporter on this story: Siv Meng atmeng.siv@phnompenhpost.com

Urban Wetland Pissoir

By Wetlands Work! for the Our City Festival. Check out their Facebook Page for visiting hours.

What’s a wetland? What to do with folks peeing on the streets? The Urban Wetland Pissoir will answer these and other questions. He is located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at the corner of Norodom and Mao Tse Tung, and welcomes visitors!
The Urban Wetland Pissoir was born out of a project for Our City Festival Phnom Penh. The Pissoir consists of a shallow aquatic garden running several meters long. The UWP highlights the challenge of public urination and its subsequent health issues, and the broader function of wetlands in treating urban wastewater, while offering an aesthetic solution. Staff and interns at Wetlands Works! Inc. designed and built the Pissoir as an interactive, educational and artistic installation.

Pissoir

Pissoir

Pissoir

Pissoir

Pissoir

Boeung Kak Lake developer makes moves

Source Friday, 28 September 2012 Shane Worrell

shukaku_derek_stout

A view of the former Boeung Kak lake site on which Shukaku plans to build a large commercial and housing development. Photograph: Derek Stout/Phnom Penh Post

After months of inactivity that has fuelled questions about the company’s future, Boeung Kak lake developer Shukaku Inc has launched a recruitment drive, calling for at least half a dozen architects, engineers and other employees.

For months, all has been quiet at the filled-in lake from which thousands have been controversially evicted in recent years. Although the silence has raised questions over the future of the large-scale development, recent job advertisements seem to indicate the project remains on track.

Classifieds that sprang up on the employment website overseasjobs.com last week encourage foreign workers – preferably those who speak Chinese and English – to apply for positions including planning director, head of administration and senior business development manager.

All are listed as being posted by Shukaku – which is headed by ruling-party senator Lao Meng Khin – and all accompany a spiel about the company’s role in developing 114 hectares at Boeung Kak lake.

According to the company’s listing on the site, Shukaku’s vision is to “create quality housing enforcing on sustainability”.

To this point, however, much of its time has been spent relocating “swamp villagers” and “reclaiming land”, it says.

“In 2012, overall concept planning works for this project has been initiated,” the listing continues.

“The company is working towards achieving ISO standards for quality control and therefore is restructuring its human resources structure to include more overseas talents to maintain this quality.”

When contacted yesterday, Sok Heng Ly, an administrative employee listed in the advertisements, confirmed positions were being offered, but could not say whether they directly related to development at Boeung Kak.

“I’m not in a position to say anything more about that,” he said. Asked if Shukaku had any other planned projects in Phnom Penh, he said he was “not sure to what extent I can say”, before adding that he was “not knowledgeable” about this.

In 2007, the government awarded a 99-year, $79 mill-ion contract to Shukaku to develop Boeung Kak.

The company partnered with Chinese company Erdos Hong Jun Investment in 2010 to form the property development firm Shukaku Erdos, which operated a sales office in the capital until about seven months ago, an unnamed former employee said yesterday.

The office’s closure – coming after much pomp and circumstance at an official launch in July, 2011 – added to speculation about the project’s future.

Plans announced at the time boasted of a satellite city replete with a business centre, department stores, conference halls, hotels and housing.

Housing Rights Task Force communications officer Long Kim Heang said she had not heard anything recently sugg-esting Shukaku planned construction any time soon.

“I’m very surprised to here Shukaku is advertising positions,” Heang said.

It was disappointing, she said, given that the conflict at Boeung Kak was yet to be resolved and the company was still victimising residents and evictees who spoke out.

“Really, if this had been resolved, we would be in a position where the company could actually provide good jobs for the Boeung Kak community.”

After the World Bank suspended lending to Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen granted 12 hectares of Boeung Kak to residents in August last year. Protesters continue to ask why this land has yet to be demarcated. 


To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phonmpenhpost.com
With assistance from Khouth Sophak Chakrya

Does Phnom Penh have what it takes to go green?

Source Wednesday, 12 September 2012  Oum Vannak and Ngor Menghourng

120912_04

Car and motorbike traffic in Sihanouk boulevard in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Ngor Menghourng/Phnom Penh Post

Walk the streets of Phnom Penh: crowds of people push through walls of smog, electric sparks fill the steely air and traffic noise pierces the blistering heat.

This is indeed an industrial hub emerging from economic infancy. But how can we make our capital green amid this modern revolution?

ASEAN has set an environmental programme for its member states to abide by for protection and preservation, in an effort to ensure clean water, land and air for all the city’s residents.
But Phnom Penh has failed to meet ASEAN’s policy.

According to Keo Kalyan, a climate change analyst for UNDP, Phnom Penh needs to consider a lot more than planting trees to meet ASEAN’s environmental standards. The city needs to look to solar energy, bicycle transportation and recycling – just to name a few areas of green development.

“We cannot call a city ‘green’ just because we see a lot of green trees,” Keo Kalyan said. “There are many more factors to take into consideration.”

Keo Kalyan added that Cambodia does not have green parks, which are a vital first step for environmental development. She suggested the government look to developing public parks to make the city greener and people’s lives happier.

Sokha Leap, an 18-year-old student at Royal University of Phnom Penh, said there is no green space in the city’s Boeung Salang commune, where she currently resides. Instead, she said he mostly sees buildings and electric poles.

“I want a natural view with trees, because it makes me feel refreshed and relaxed,” she said. “In other countries, people are able to enjoy this luxury – they can look at green trees and parks, while we can’t.”

Rath Spanha, a 22-year-old accountant at Angkor Certified, echoed Sokha Leap’s concern.

“I want to have beautiful views of my city, but instead all we have are views of electrical poles instead of trees,” he said.

In a response to this growing issue, the Mayor of Phnom Penh, HE Kep Chuktema, said that the municipality is constantly paying attention to making the city a greener and more environmentally-friendly place.

“We want to make Phnom Penh a green city,” the Mayor said. “A green city doesn’t just mean trees, but we’re looking at boosting the whole city’s environmental sector from a holistic approach.”

Meas Rithy, Deputy Manager at the ASEAN Cooperation Department with the Ministry of Environment, said that Phnom Penh now integrates the creation of parks and planting trees with new urban development projects.

“I think the Municipality has been making good decisions in developing green projects,” he said. “Gardens near the Royal Palace have a nice view of green grass, flowers and trees.”

“It is a bit hard to create green parks in the city because it will affect people’s housing, but it would be great to create them in the next phase of our city’s development,” Meas Rithy added.

Run Sokha, an engineer for Archetype Cambodia, however, said that Phnom Penh’s development projects are behind its ASEAN neighbours in sustainable development.

“Cambodia does not have any laws for environmental compliance when new buildings are constructed,” he said.

But Meng Bunnarid, Director of Land Management at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said that every new construction projection heeds special attention to environmental compliance.

“We have our law on urbanisation and construction, which will boost our environmental development.” Meng Bunnarid said.

Meng Bunnarid advised that “Citizens have to participate in taking care of the environment in order to make Phnom Penh a greener city.”

He added that “In the future, we will create more public parks and especially gardens with big trees, like in other countries.”

Week 23 – Time Lapse

There’s that ferry again. The river is at the exact same spot as last week. Hmm.
All photos here on Flickr.

Live water levels from the Mekong River Commission here and here and here. Rainfall levels are here (Tonle Sap Delta).

Phnom Penh (Bassac)
Flood level = 12.00 m
Alarm level = 10.50 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 8.13 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 13, 2012 = 8.13 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 05, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 8.13 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 06, 2012 = 8.27

Water level on Friday, August 31, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.76 m
Forecast level on Saturday, September 01, 2012 = 7.81 m

Water level on Monday, August 20, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.22 m
Forecast level on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 = 7.19 m

Water level on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 6.91 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 = 6.98 m

Water level on Monday, August 06, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.30 m
Forecast level on Tuesday, August 07, 2012 = 7.55 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.28 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, August 01, 2012 = 5.43 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.95 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 = 4.82 m

Water level on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.82 m
Forecast level on Thursday, July 12, 2012 = 5.69 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.26 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 = 5.18 m

Phnom Penh Port
Flood level = 11.00 m
Alarm level = 9.50 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.25 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 13, 2012 = 7.25 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 05, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.19 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 06, 2012 = 7.33 m

Water level on Friday, August 31, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 6.85 m
Forecast level on Saturday, September 01, 2012 = 6.90 m

Water level on Monday, August 20, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 6.27 m
Forecast level on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 = 6.24 m

Water level on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.99 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 = 6.06 m

Water level on Monday, August 06, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 6.47 m
Forecast level on Tuesday, August 07, 2012 = 6.70 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.42 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, August 01, 2012 = 4.57 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.07 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 = 3.94 m

Water level on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.66 m
Forecast level on Thursday, July 12, 2012 = 4.54 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.35 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 = 4.28

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Week 14
Week 15
Week 16
Week 17
Week 18
Week 19
Week 20
Week 21
Week 22

Location.

Map1

Week 23 – 12 September 2012 – view left.

Week 23 Time Lapse

Week 22 – 5 September 2012 – view left.

DSC_3443

Week 21 – 30 August 2012 – view left.

Week 21 Time Lapse

Week 20 – 20 August 2012 – view left.

Week 20

Week 19 – 14 August 2012 – view left.

Week 19 River Time Lapse

Week 18 – 6 August 2012 – view left.

Week 18

Week 17 – 1 August 2012 – view left.

Week 17

Week 16 – 24  July 2012 – view left.

Week 16 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 15 – 17 July 2012 – view left.

WEEK 15 - PHNOM PENH RIVER TIME LAPSE

Week 14 – 11 July 2012 – view left.

11 July - Time Lapse

Week 13 – 3 July 012 – view left.

3 July - Week 13

Week 12 – 25 June 2012 – view left.

Week 12 - 25 June

Week 11 – 18 June 2012 – view left.

Week 11 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 10 – 12 June 2012 – view left.

Week 10 - Phnom Penh Time Lapse

Week 9 – 2 June 2012 – view left.

Week 9 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 8 – 26 May 2012 – view left.

Week 8 - May 26

Week 7 – 18 May 2012 – view left.

Week 7 - May 18

Week 6 – 11 May 2012 – view left.

Week 6 - May 11

Week 5 – 6 May 2012 – view left.

6 May - Week 5

Week 4 – 27 April 2012 – view left.

Week 4 - 27 April

Week 3 – 21 April 2012 – view left.

21 April - Week 3

Week 2 – 12 April 2012 – view left.

12 April 2012

Week 1 – 6 April 2012 – view left.

6 April 2012

Week 23 – 12 September 2012 – view right.

Week 23 Time Lapse

Week 22 – 5 September 2012 – view right.

Week 22

Week 21 – 30 August 2012 – view right.

Week 21 Time Lapse

Week 20 – 20 August 2012 – view right.

Week 20

Week 19 – 14 August 2012 – view right.

Week 19 River Time Lapse

Week 18 – 6 August 2012 – view right.

Week 18

Week 17 – 1 August 2012 – view right.

Week 17

Week 16 – 24 July 2012 – view right.

Week 16 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 15 – 17 July 2012 – view right.

WEEK 15 - PHNOM PENH RIVER TIME LAPSE

Week 14 – 11 July 2012 – view right.

Week 14 - 11 July - Time Lapse

Week 13 – 3 July 012 – view right.

3 July - Week 13

Week 12 – 25 June 2012 – view right.

Week 12 - 25 June

Week 11 – 18 June 2012 – view right.

Week 11 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 10 – 12 June 2012 – view right.

Week 10 - Phnom Penh Time Lapse

Week 9 – 2 June 2012 – view right.

Week 9 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 8 – 25 May 2012 – view right.

Week 8 - May 26

Week 7 – 18 May 2012 – view right.

Week 7 - May 18

Week 6 – 11 May 2012 – view right.

DSC_9770

Week 5 – 6 May 2012 – view right.

6 May - Week 5

Week 4 – 27 April 2012 – view right.

Week 4 - 27 April

Week 3 – 21 April 2012 – view right.

21 April - Week 3

Week 2 – 12 April 2012 – view right.

12 April 2012

Week 1 – 6 April 2012 – view right.

6 April 2012

Authority to Refine Beauty Along City’s Drainage/Sewage Canal

Source Wednesday, 05 Sep 2012 10:53

Garden construction projects and ditch environment refining project from Boeung Salang ditch to Boeung Tompun pumping station were presented by Urbanization office of Phnom Penh Capital Hall under high presentation of H.E KEP Chuktema, Phnom Penh governor. These projects are discussed because of some complicated situation such as narrow street which make the authority difficult to intervene in case that is a fire or urgent case.

Officer of Urbanization office identified that the distance from Boeung Salang core drainage/sewage to Boeung Tompun pumping station is 4960m in which there was part of it renovated by JICA from Street 336 to Boeung Tompun pump station is 1311m. Based on the study, the refining process is divided into 5 phases because the situation along the ditch is different from one place to another.

By referring to the problem discussing, H.E KEP Chuktema pushed to refine core ditches in Phnom Penh through the re-construction and reparation for promoting Phnom Penh capital as a clean city. The project on ditch decoration is really necessary to promote the living condition of citizens for a better environment as well as the beauty of the city. Moreover, the governor transferred the responsibility to Urbanization office to design detail master plan on ditch decoration project and disseminate the advantages of this project to the citizens to ensure that the environment along the ditch is clean and no wrong disposal.

The construction of garden along Boeung Salang ditch from Boeung Chas lake to Boeung Tompun pumping station are for many objectives such as creating suitable way in case of fire or emergency, decorating the environment of the Capital, reducing wrong disposal and preventing informal temporary habitation. This project gets support by citizens and was also discussed during monthly meeting of Phnom Penh Capital Hall on September 3rd, 2012 in which the Department of Water Resources is responsible to design detail project related to ditch bank decoration before constructing the garden.

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New York Is Lagging as Seas and Risks Rise, Critics Warn

Source

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Sea walls, marshes and trees in Brooklyn Bridge Park, part of efforts by New York City agencies to cope with rising seas.

By  Published: September 10, 2012

With a 520-mile-long coast lined largely by teeming roads and fragile infrastructure, New York City is gingerly facing up to the intertwined threats posed by rising seas and ever-more-severe storm flooding.

Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Battery Park after Hurricane Irene, by then a tropical storm, hit a year ago. Low-lying areas of New York City are vulnerable to storms.

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Raised ventilation grates, like these in Lower Manhattan, are intended to deal with flooding in the subway system during severe storms.

So far, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has commissioned exhaustive research on the challenge of climate change. His administration is expanding wetlands to accommodate surging tides, installing green roofs to absorb rainwater and prodding property owners to move boilers out of flood-prone basements.

But even as city officials earn high marks for environmental awareness, critics say New York is moving too slowly to address the potential for flooding that could paralyze transportation, cripple the low-lying financial district and temporarily drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Only a year ago, they point out, the city shut down the subway system and ordered the evacuation of 370,000 people as Hurricane Irene barreled up the Atlantic coast. Ultimately, the hurricane weakened to a tropical storm and spared the city, but it exposed how New York is years away from — and billions of dollars short of — armoring itself.

“They lack a sense of urgency about this,” said Douglas Hill, an engineer with the Storm Surge Research Group at Stony Brook University, on Long Island.

Instead of “planning to be flooded,” as he put it, city, state and federal agencies should be investing in protection like sea gates that could close during a storm and block a surge from Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean into the East River and New York Harbor.

Others express concern for areas like the South Bronx and Sunset Park in Brooklyn, which have large industrial waterfronts with chemical-manufacturing plants, oil-storage sites and garbage-transfer stations. Unless hazardous materials are safeguarded with storm surges in mind, some local groups warn, residents could one day be wading through toxic water.

“A lot of attention is devoted to Lower Manhattan, but you forget that you have real industries on the waterfront” elsewhere in the city, said Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, which represents low-income residents of industrial areas. “We’re behind in consciousness-building and disaster planning.”

Other cities are also tackling these issues, at their own pace.

New shoreline development around San Francisco Bay must now be designed to cope with the anticipated higher sea levels under new regional regulations imposed last fall. In Chicago, new bike lanes and parking spaces are made of permeable pavement that allows rainwater to filter through it. Charlotte, N.C., and Cedar Falls, Iowa, are restricting development in flood plains. Maryland is pressing shoreline property owners to plant marshland instead of building retaining walls.

Officials in New York caution that adapting a city of eight million people to climate change is infinitely more complicated and that the costs must be weighed against the relative risks of flooding. The last time a hurricane made landfall directly in New York City was more than a century ago.

Many decisions also require federal assistance, like updated flood maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that incorporate sea level rise, and agreement from dozens of public agencies and private partners that own transportation, energy, telecommunications and other infrastructure.

“It’s a million small changes that need to happen,” said Adam Freed, until August the deputy director of the city’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. “Everything you do has to be a calculation of the risks and benefits and costs you face.”

And in any case, Mr. Freed said, “you can’t make a climate-proof city.”

So city officials are pursuing a so-called resilience strategy that calls for strengthening the city’s ability to weather the effects of serious flooding and recover from it.

Flooding Threat Grows

Unlike New Orleans, New York City is above sea level. Yet the city is second only to New Orleans in the number of people living less than four feet above high tide — nearly 200,000 New Yorkers, according to the research group Climate Central.

The waters on the city’s doorstep have been rising roughly an inch a decade over the last century as oceans have warmed and expanded. But according to scientists advising the city, that rate is accelerating, because of environmental factors, and levels could rise two feet higher than today’s by midcentury. More frequent flooding is expected to become an uncomfortable reality.

With higher seas, a common storm could prove as damaging as the rare big storm or hurricane is today, scientists say. Were sea levels to rise four feet by the 2080s, for example, 34 percent of the city’s streets could lie in the flood-risk zone, compared with just 11 percent now, a 2011 study commissioned by the state said.

New York has added bike lanes, required large buildings to track and reduce their energy use, banned the dirtiest home heating oils, and taken other steps to reduce the emissions that contribute to global warming. But with shoreline development that ranges from public beaches to towering high rises — and a complex mix of rivers, estuaries, bays and ocean — the city needs to size up the various risks posed by rising seas before plunging ahead with vast capital projects or strict regulations, city officials argue.

Yet the city’s plan for waterfront development dismisses any notion of retreat from the shoreline. Curbing development or buying up property in flood plains, as some smaller cities have done, is too impractical here, city officials say, especially because the city anticipates another million residents over the next two decades.

Rather, the city and its partners are incorporating flood-protection measures into projects as they go along.

Consolidated Edison, the utility that supplies electricity to most of the city, estimates that adaptations like installing submersible switches and moving high-voltage transformers above ground level would cost at least $250 million. Lacking the means, it is making gradual adjustments, with about $24 million spent in flood zones since 2007.

Some steps taken by city agencies have already subtly altered the city’s looks. At Brooklyn Bridge Park, a buffer between the East River and neighborhoods like Dumbo, porous riprap rock and a soft edge of salt-resistant grass have been laid in to help absorb the punch of a storm surge. Sidewalk bioswales, or vegetative tree pits that can fill up with rainwater to reduce storm water and sewage overflows and also minimize flooding, are popping up around the city.

Over all, the city is hoping to funnel more than $2 billion of public and private money to such environmental projects over the next 18 years, officials say.

“It’s a series of small interventions that cumulatively, over time, will take us to a more natural system” to deal with climate change, said Carter H. Strickland, the city’s environmental commissioner.

Planning experts say it is hard to muster public support for projects with uncertain or distant benefits.

“There’s a lot of concern about angering developers,” said Ben Chou, a water-policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

New York planners have proposed requiring developers to assess the climate-change risks faced by new buildings so they can consider protection like retractable watertight gates for windows. But no such requirements have been imposed so far.

While some new buildings are being elevated or going above current required flood protections — like a new recycling plant on a Brooklyn pier and the Port Authority’s transit hub at the World Trade Center site — most new construction is not being adapted to future flood risks yet, industry representatives said.

Some experts argue that the encounter with Hurricane Irene last year and a flash flood in 2007 underscored the dangers of deferring aggressive solutions.

Klaus H. Jacob, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said the storm surge from Irene came, on average, just one foot short of paralyzing transportation into and out of Manhattan.

If the surge had been just that much higher, subway tunnels would have flooded, segments of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and roads along the Hudson River would have turned into rivers, and sections of the commuter rail system would have been impassable or bereft of power, he said.

The most vulnerable systems, like the subway tunnels under the Harlem and East Rivers, would have been unusable for nearly a month, or longer, at an economic loss of about $55 billion, said Mr. Jacob, an adviser to the city on climate change and an author of the 2011 state study that laid out the flooding prospects.

“We’ve been extremely lucky,” he said. “I’m disappointed that the political process hasn’t recognized that we’re playing Russian roulette.”

With more rain and higher seas, some envision more turmoil — like mile after mile of apartment buildings without working elevators, lights or potable water.

“That’s a key vulnerability,” said Rafael Pelli, a Manhattan architect who serves on a climate-change committee that advises the Department of City Planning. “If you have to relocate 10,000 people, how do you do that?”

Barriers to Block Tides

Some New Yorkers argue that the answer lies not in evacuation, but in prevention, like armoring city waterways with the latest high-tech barriers. Others are not so sure.

At a recent meeting of Manhattan community board leaders in Harlem, Robert Trentlyon, a resident of Chelsea, argued for sea gates.

2004 study by Mr. Hill and the Storm Surge Research Group at Stony Brook recommended installing movable barriers at the upper end of the East River, near the Throgs Neck Bridge; under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge; and at the mouth of the Arthur Kill, between Staten Island and New Jersey. During hurricanes and northeasters, closing the barriers would block a huge tide from flooding Manhattan and parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and New Jersey, they said.

City officials say that sea barriers are among the options being studied, but others say such gates could interfere with aquatic ecosystems and with the flushing out of pollutants, and may eventually fail as sea levels keep rising.

And then there is the cost. Installing barriers for New York could reach nearly $10 billion.

There is more agreement on how to protect the subway system. Several studies have advised the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to move quickly to increase pumping capacity at stations, raise entrances and design floodgates to block water from entering.

In 2009, a commission warned that global warming posed “a new and potentially dire challenge for which the M.T.A. system is largely unprepared.”

Five years ago, a summer-morning deluge brought about 3 1/2 inches of rain in two hours and paralyzed the system for hours, stranding 2.5 million riders.

That prompted the transit agency to spend $34 million on improvements like raising some ventilation grates nine inches above sidewalks and building steps that head upward, before descending, at flood-prone stations. All the money came from the agency’s capital budget, which also pays for subway cars and buses.

“This is a vicious circle of the worst kind,” Projjal Dutta, the transportation agency’s director of sustainability, said of the financial effect. “You’re cutting public transportation, which cuts down greenhouse gases, to harden against climate change.”