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Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Superstorm Sandy, One Year Later
Redesigning our coast to hold back a hurricane
Henk Ovink, the director-general of national spatial planning and water affairs in the Netherlands, is currently advising the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on how to rebuild the coast to better withstand a hurricane.

When Superstorm Sandy rolled across the Northeast last Oct. 29, it was among our worst nightmares –– a historic tempest that inundated entire swaths of coastline, pushing the Atlantic Ocean past points that we did not believe floodwaters could reach. In a day, Sandy wreaked $68 billion in damage to homes, businesses, roads, bridges, tunnels, subways, railroads, harbors and beaches.

In Sandy’s wake, with no electricity and heat and with winter just weeks away, we felt desperate. We were far more exposed to nature’s destructive elements than we had thought.

Writing for The Washington Post, Brian McNoldy, a senior researcher at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, noted in an essay last November that Sandy was the second most powerful hurricane in terms of the kinetic energy that it produced, after Isabel in 2003. (Katrina was third.) According to McNoldy, Sandy generated as much kinetic energy as two World War II-era atomic bombs.

Long Islanders spent months reconstructing their homes and businesses after Sandy. Many still have not rebuilt.

The question is, when everyone is restored, do we simply move on, pretending that nothing happened? Or do we remake our coastline to ensure that our structures and infrastructure are protected in another Sandy?

Henk Ovink, director-general of national spatial planning and water affairs for the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, is “on loan,” he says, to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this year as a senior adviser to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who reports to President Obama. Ovink is helping to oversee Rebuild by Design, a program initiated by the president that aims to build greater resiliency into our coastline to hold back the ocean and protect our communities in a hurricane. Ovink, who arrived in the U.S. in April, is staying for a year, in part to spread the word about the need to rethink how we design our cities and suburbs in flood zones.


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Finally we have engaged the experts! There was an article in the New Yorker magazine right after Sandy describing how the Dutch have learned to tame the water and I was hoping that the US will follow the process. Good to hear that they brought Henk Ovink to spearhead this important task. Those hard-working taxpayers who complain as to why their money should be used to sponsor such programs-quit whining and realize that the reason people have a great standard of living and are generally happy in the countries such as Nederlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark is precisely because they have strong social support systems, trust in the government and an understanding that having most of the country live comfortably is better than to have 1% living excessively.

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