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Mayor of Hoboken takes resilience personally

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For Mayor Dawn Zimmer, the challenge of ensuring the resiliency of Hoboken, New Jersey's, infrastructure is personal.

When Superstorm Sandy battered the U.S. Northeast in October 2012, it flooded nearly 80% of the city, and left more than 90% without power. But that storm and Hurricane Irene in August 2011 only strengthened Ms. Zimmer's resolve to implement a comprehensive resiliency and readiness plan to guard against future storms and flooding disasters.

“The impetus for me personally was experiencing flooding in my neighborhood,” Ms. Zimmer said. “After Sandy, there was even more of a focus. We just absolutely have to address it. I feel it's the most important challenge facing our city.”

The city is prone to flooding due to its location on the Hudson River, low topography, high level of organization and undersized combined sewer system, according to a report by the La Jolla, California-based Re.invest Initiative.

The initiative chose Hoboken in 2013 to receive a detailed technical assistance package, valued at $500,000, outlining a comprehensive engineering, legal and financial strategy to rebuild the city's infrastructure. That complemented the city's efforts through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rebuild by Design program, which awarded Hoboken a $230 million flood prevention grant in 2014.

The city has already begun executing several elements of its Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge strategy, including starting construction this summer on the Southwest Resiliency Park at an estimated cost of $4.7 million and for which the Hoboken City Council is seeking a low-interest loan from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust. The city also received an $11.5 million low-interest loan in August 2014 to expand flood pumping capacity.

The Re.invest Initiative helped city officials decide which elements of its resiliency plan were not feasible, Ms. Zimmer said. The Northwest Resiliency Park, a separate project, initially was to include a stormwater detention facility, an underground parking garage and surface park. But the initiative's analysis helped officials realize that an underground parking garage would be too expensive. The revised plan still includes a detention facility to hold at least 1 million gallons of water and the surface park, but now calls for an above-ground parking garage, which would still address the city's parking shortage.

“We have gone deeper than just a concept,” Ms. Zimmer said. The Re.invest Initiative has “helped us determine what's possible.”