Queens May Face Severe Flooding During Coming Century

Heavy flooding, caused by unchecked global warming, could permanently cover more than half of Queens coastal areas during the coming century, it was predicted by a report issued by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Hardest hit would be sections of Rosedale, College Point, Howard Beach, Broad Channel, South Ozone Park, Jamaica Bay islands, and much of the Rockaway peninsula, which lie in areas that are no higher than ten feet above sea level. Gradually rising sea levels would not only severally damage the Borough’s coastal homes, beaches and parklands, but could severely impact the Borough’s rail and highway systems, and both LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. The projected damaged areas rim the northern and southern borders of the Borough.
Also scheduled for watery problems are such Queens landmarks as the Alley Pond Park and sections of the Flushing Meadows-Corona park. The 13-block "iron triangle" in Willets Point, a major car repair center near shea Stadium, is also in danger because its often muddy surface is less than ten feet above an underground stream. Entitled Hot Nights in the City, the report states that global warming is caused by the increasing use of coal, oil, and natural gas to power cars and trucks, as well as industrial plants. This ongoing process releases billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, which, in turn, causes the earth to absorb, rather than reflect the heat from the sun. The resultant increased levels of heat absorption, says the report, is melting ice at both poles and causing an accelerated increase in the local sea level as well as more of 100-degree heat waves, increasing storm severity and heavier rainfall. One key to the EDF’s concern about flooding are the gradual disappearance of sectors of the islands and marshes that make up the Gateway National Recreational area in Jamaica Bay. Aerial photos and on-site investigations of one undisturbed islet (Yellow Bar Hassock), for example, showed that it had shrunk 13 percent (from 189 to 165 acres) during the past 40 years.
The EDF recommends a series of tough actions to reduce gas emissions: they include improved public transportation, producing cars with higher fuel economy, improved product and supply delivery systems, slowing deforestation, and creating more energy efficient light bulbs and machinery. Local cause for alarm was also generated by an October 1996, story in The Queens Courier which revealed that five of New York City’s top seven air polluters were located in Queens. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the five sites produced 82 percent (or 21,000 tons) of the pollutants generated each year by the Citys top seven facilities. Nearly 139,000 pounds of pollutants are produced daily by these units. Northeast Queens which contains four of these five units, has one of the highest asthma rates in the City. Significantly, Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports, the City’s fourth and sixth highest polluters, are excluded from most of the federal clean air law requirements.
More than 700,000 planes fly over Queens annually, to and from both airports. Civic activists have also expressed concerns about the adequacy of the Dept. of NYC Environmental Protection’s (DEP) massive $80 million sewer trunk line in south Queens where many homes were built in low-lying areas, below legal grade, atop high water tables that were often just five feet below ground. Similarly below-level homes in the vicinity of the Kissena Corridor Park are waiting to be linked up to a giant 28-million gallon sewage tank costing $165 million, now under construction. Residents are concerned because most City sewer lines are designed to accommodate four inches of rain in six hours. In low-lying areas these sewer lines sometimes can’t be installed because of high water tables. DEP spokesperson Christina Manos said that while government agencies needed to review the EDP report she was confident that her agency’s water distribution and waste water facilities’ can accommodate the possible short-term effects of global warming, such as slight rises in temperature or sea levels. However, an alarmed Senator Charles Schumer declared The New York of tomorrow must be protected by prudent action today. The U.S. Senate should begin to take action addressing this problem, which will impact on New Yorkers and all Americans.
Victor Goldsmith, Acting Dean of Research of Hunter College, who has conducted extensive tidal gauge studies, said that these findings are often based on their location and varying local conditions: In one study of the Mediterranean Sea shore line there were highly variable rates of sea level changes. While other scientists, examining the Battery park shore line, in Manhattan, have found that the water level has risen one foot in the last 100 years. He cautioned that there are long range cycles of local warm and cold weather which trigger rising or receding shore lines. Seventeen thousand years ago, he said, there were glaciers resting comfortably in Queens and Brooklyn that have now disappeared. At the same time, the sea level inched up.