After the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the entire East Coast of continental America, a plan was devised by the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure (NICHI) looking to prevent such damage to the American city. In what is being called a “dream project,” researchers have proposed installing five underwater flood gates that can be deployed to prevent the Big Apple from flooding in the case of another superstorm.

With hurricane season in the United States coming to a standstill, the trails of devastation left on the Eastern coast of the United States and surrounding islands is a clear indication of the planet’s ongoing struggle with climate change. Just off the coast, Puerto Rico is still struggling to get basic amenities to islanders almost a month after two hurricanes landed on the U.S. territory due to the intensity of the hurricanes’ destruction.

The researchers at NICHI are working hard to bring New York City Hall and United States Army Corps of Engineers on board, hoping to get the funding and resources for such a large-scale project. The idea behind the submerged gates in and around the city is to block a surge of water in the case of storm-induced flooding, preventing key points in the city from being submerged.

flood gates

How the flood gates installed in Italy work. Those being proposed for New York City would function similarly. Courtesy of NICHI.

The areas in which the floodgates are planned to be erected are along the East River, near East Rockaway, Jones Inlet, and the Outer Harbor around Fire Island and Moriches Inlet, amounting to a total of five gates – two of which will be placed in East Rockaway. These geographies were strategically chosen to protect the five boroughs of New York City, both JFK and LaGuardia airports, and parts of New Jersey as well.

Experts are saying that the cost of the flood gates could be as high as $25 billion – a hefty sum for just five gates. But a glimpse at the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy – which caused $65 billion in damages – indicates that the cost of the project is far less than the potential damage that superstorms can cause.


A map pointing to where the flood gates would be positioned and the areas they would protect. (CC: NICHI)

Flooding in New York City happens every 25 years. But starting 2030, the interval between one flood and another is expected to shrink to five years. At its current rate, water floods New York with 7.5 feet (2.1 meters) at a time. During Hurricane Sandy, 10-11 feet (3-3.3 meters) of water hit New York, killing 43 people and damaging 80,000 buildings. A study conducted on cyclone activity points to the melting of the West Antarctic Sheet as one of the primary culprits behind rising sea levels today. Add that to the current rate of global warming due to factors like increasing carbon emissions and the idea of New York City sinking does not seem too far-fetched.

Alongside this “dream plan” are a number of alternative solutions to the hurricane-related problems that American cities face. These studies are currently being evaluated for feasibility and funding in an attempt to reduce the cost of the project and minimize the damage that hurricanes have on the United States. It does seem, however, that as far-fetched as the underwater gate project may seem, reflected in the NICHI’s attempt to bring the Army Corps on board, these submerged gates might prevent the city that never sleeps from drowning into its last slumber.