Obama’s post-hurricane point person says tactical retreat has to be an option

obamas-post-hurricane-point-person-says-tactical-retreat-has-be-opt
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. (Dana Rubinstein)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Shaun Donovan, President Obama's housing secretary and his point-person on post-Hurricane Sandy recovery, told reporters today that in some parts of the storm-damaged region, it might be best to retreat from the waterfront.

"I've seen in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, communities where the local community made the decision not to rebuild, to do buyouts, to allow people to move," he told reporters today following a speech at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan. "Those are very, very hard decisions, but there are discussions going on right now in communities across the region about those.

"There will be some small share of communities, though, where it makes sense—and I would emphasize, very small share—where it may not make sense to rebuild at all."

Such communities, said Donovan, "may be as small as a block or a couple blocks" and would be in places where, even with the best flood-mitigation efforts, there's a chance "that a family's life and their community is going to be devastated in the near future."

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

The notion of retreat, on any scale, is a politically sensitive one.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has explicitly ruled it out in New York City.

Bloomberg has also been skeptical of the notion of tidal barriers, which he thinks would be prohibitively expensive and ultimately ineffective anyway.

Today, Donovan again differed from the mayor (his former boss) and said that there should be some discussion of sea walls.

"I don't think we should take anything off the table," he said, when asked if sea walls are something that should be considered. "One of the most important things that we've seen is that where we do smart mitigation, we save four dollars in future costs for every one dollar that we invest. I believe that we have to get the best scientists and the best thinking from across the country and around the world … I don't think anybody could tell you today whether that will be the right answer."

Update: In a subsequent comment, Alexander Wohl, a spokesman for Donovan, sought to emphasize that any decision regarding retreat would be a local one: "He backs the mayor's decision if that's what the mayor's decision is, because it must be a locally based decision," said Wohl.