New York isn’t Holland, as far as the sea-wall-resistant mayor is concerned

The Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy. (Melissa Segal via Flickr)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent much of his radio show this morning putting up resistance to calls from elected officials for the construction of sea walls to protect the metropolitan region from the destructive power of storm surges.

Storm surges, he said, are inevitable along any coastline, and "Nobody is happy when nature comes to call."

But "in a practical sense, you're not gonna build a wall from the Florida Keys to the northern tip of Maine to protect the whole coast, in fact you probably could not do that," he said, during his Friday morning appearance on the John Gambling Show. "And there'll never be a technology that can do that. If you remember, King Canute of Denmark tried to stop the tides from coming in. It's a classic story.

"Well, the Danes are probably as good as anybody about keeping the sea away," said Gambling, seeming to confuse the Danish with the Dutch, and their famous flood-mitigation system.

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"Well, they don't have hurricanes, number one, OK," said the mayor. "Number two, the barriers, the Thames, it's a narrow river."

The mayor was referring to Thames River Flood Barrier that protects London.

"They also have a very small country," Gambling said.

"Yes, absolutely," said Bloomberg. "And they can do some things that fit there that just don't fit here."

Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated he's open to some sort of sea wall-type infrastructure to protect the region's low-lying coastline, as have many of the candidates running for mayor next year, including the mayor's ally, Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Also in the sea-wall camp: Rep. Jerry Nadler and the influential Regional Plan Association.

Since Hurricane Sandy made landfall, the mayor has questioned the value of such schemes relative to their cost.

"I think that the focus has to be on big buildings being better able to withstand a flood, having your basement to be more of a tub that the water can't get in and the barriers coming up higher, having your generators up higher," Bloomberg said.

Separately, the mayor contradicted the governor regarding the Long Island Power Authority.

LIPA has become the governor's favorite whipping boy, thanks to its poor performance following the hurricane, even though it's a state-run authority and, therefore, Cuomo's responsibility.

Earlier this week, amid questions about why he hadn't acted earlier to improve the performance of the state's power companies, the governor created a Moreland Commission to investigate LIPA and other New York utilities.

The mayor has been far less critical of the power companies, including LIPA, where his girlfriend Diana Taylor used to be chief financial officer.

"LIPA gets criticized a lot," said the mayor today. "I don't know how much of it's true. It's an area where the water can do more damage anyways."