Residents ‘flood’ city with criticism over seawalls

Mayor says she won’t support any plan that blocks waterfront access

Mike Baldassari’s family has been in Hoboken for over100 years. While speaking with his mother, Claire, about the possibility of the city erecting anti-flooding seawalls that might block views of the Manhattan skyline, she told him about being barred from the waterfront as a child because of the warehouses along the harbor.
“You guys have access to an incredible waterfront; you have to make sure you keep it,” she said to him.
Scores of residents have recently criticized the proposed flood walls, part of proposals made public at a public meeting two weeks ago. Hundreds of residents attended a meeting Dec. 10 to discuss five potential concepts for the $230 million federal “Rebuild by Design Hudson River: Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge” project for Hoboken, Weehawken, and Jersey City.
The federally funded project, spurred in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, aims at protecting the city from flooding caused by heavy rainfall and future storm surges.

“My neighbors and I are all for protecting Hoboken, just not at the expense of increasing day-to-day risk of current residents.” – Sean Kron.
A drop-in meeting at the Hoboken Historical Museum on Monday, Dec. 14 drew national media attention as members of the public rallied against various types of proposed seawalls to combat flooding.
Of all the concepts (which were labeled A to E), Concept A drew the most ire. It includes a “gate” from 7 to 12 feet on Garden Street.
“Our street is the most desirable street in Hoboken, a tree-lined street with historical buildings on it,” Debbie Olita of Garden Street told a media outlet this past week. “It’s the most desirable in town.”
The various concepts include floodwalls, berms, revetments (retaining walls), and T-walls as high as 18 feet in the north and southern edges of the city. However, the height depends on whether the final plan will address the potential shift of the flood plain in the next 100 or 500 years.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates it will take three and a half years to complete the project, with a project closeout scheduled for 2022.

Social media frenzy

Opponents of the walls also took to social media. Hoboken resident and NBC Correspondent Natalie Morales, who has 289,000 Twitter followers, re-tweeted a post from Jon Otto that read, “Say No To Concept A.”
An online petition that Otto linked to on, signed by over 500 people as of Friday, Dec. 18, said, “all of the undersigned unequivocally oppose ‘option A’ of the Rebuild By Design flood mitigation strategy” and encourage the city to seek other solutions.
A Facebook Group called “Save our Streets” had over 270 likes as of this past week. “This is an open community forum for Hoboken residents who oppose the hasty actions of the storm walls to be built in our town. Improve Infrastructure First!” it says.
Baldassari, who lives on 13th Street and attended the Monday and Thursday drop-in meetings, likened the flood gates to “Berlin-style walls” and worried that they could obstruct emergency vehicles, as well as evacuations.
“The main concern is this option A,” he said. “It includes building a wall down Garden Street but also creating gates across 14th and 15th streets. What happens to fire trucks and ambulances trying to get in?”
Sean Kron, a resident of Garden Street, agreed that “a wall right down the middle of a residential street significantly reduces access to homes by emergency services.”
“My neighbors and I are all for protecting Hoboken, just not at the expense of increasing day-to-day risk of current residents,” said Kron.

Mayor responds

“I have heard and fully understand concerns about impacts to our waterfront and residential neighborhoods,” said Zimmer following Monday’s meeting. “I recognize that the Hudson River is both our city’s greatest treasure and potential threat to our community. For this reason, I want to be upfront that I would not support an alignment that would block access to our waterfront. I am also extremely sensitive to the impact on residential neighborhoods.”
The mayor emphasized that the final plan – chosen after the current five are whittled down to three – will incorporate recent concerns made by the public.
“Deployable walls that are only put into place when emergencies arise are another option,” she said.
Concept A is the “least costly resist barrier which provides the least coastal storm surge risk reduction benefits to the [area],” according to planners. Concept B protects Weehawken and the north waterfront significantly with approximately 98 percent flood risk reduction benefits for those in the study area, compared to Concept A’s 86 percent.
Concept C is the most costly but provides protection for 99 percent of those in the study area, significantly reducing flood risk for the Hoboken Terminal as well as other vital arteries around town. Concept D similarly provides hefty protection but, unlike Concept C, does not include free-standing, in-water revetments.
Concept E mainly focuses its efforts to the south with “partial flood reduction benefits” to the north, taking into consideration the north waterfront boathouse.
“One of the changes that I will strongly urge the DEP to explore is an alignment for option E that determines a different approach to the ‘T-Wall’ along the walkway in front of the Hudson Tea Building,” said Zimmer. “The alignment along Hudson Street or Shipyard Lane should be explored with a different tie-in to the waterfront that does not create a wall around the walkway and separate our community from the Hudson River.”
Concept E currently has two options attached to it, for either deployable gates in the Hudson Tea Building area from 6.5 to 13.5 feet tall or flood walls from 1.8 to 8.6 feet tall.
In addition to the public meetings, the city of Hoboken also has a Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) in place to meet with the NJDEP regularly and advocate for residents’ concerns.
Co-Chair of CAG and current City Council President Ravi Bhalla also released a statement saying he would share in residents’ frustration over plans that would hinder on the city’s treasured boardwalk and brownstone neighborhoods.
“While there are concerns about barriers for flood protection, my expectation is that they would be designed in a manner that integrates them into our urban landscape without adversely impacting property values, waterfront views, or any aspect of the quality of life for Hoboken’s residents,” Bhalla said. “For example, they could be designed as park benches, planters, or other community amenities.”
Public comments on the concepts are being accepted through Dec. 31 by email at

Steven Rodas can be reached at

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