By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Bellevue Hospital is in the beginning stages of a plan that aims to protect the facility from future Hurricane Sandys and released an environmental assessment on the project at the beginning of July. The document is the first the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), Bellevue’s parent organization, has released concerning the project and outlines the most viable alternative, a comprehensive mitigation system, which consists of a “perimeter boundary protection system” or flood wall around the hospital center. It will include a series of connected permanent and removable walls and integrated flood gates, as well as new elevators, a secondary domestic water pumping system, relocation of the HVAC equipment to above the 500-year flood plain and other features.
Other alternatives that were discussed in the document but that were ultimately dismissed include relocation of the hospital center or just a flood wall with no other changes. Relocation is not being considered because HHC does not think it practical to abandon the infrastructure investments that have been made on the existing site. The second alternative has been dismissed because while it is expected to provide similar flood protection to the wall in the selected plan, HHC wanted to incorporate a “Multiple Lines of Defense” strategy.
HHC has received some federal funding for emergency assistance and disaster relief, but this specific project requires an additional application to FEMA for funding through the agency’s Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation program, which specifically helps mitigate damages caused by disasters and reduces future losses from natural disasters. The environmental assessment is evaluated by FEMA to determine if the project will have a significant impact on the surrounding environment and require an Environmental Impact Statement.
Waterside Plaza Tenants Association President Janet Handal, who has been involved in community efforts to oppose the nearby sanitation garage that has been proposed by DSNY, had some concerns about the project at Bellevue as well, including coordination between the agencies involved in the two projects.
Handal was concerned that that there would be overlap between the two projects on East 26th Street, which is the northern border of the sanitation garage site and the southern border of the wall around Bellevue, and she also felt there might be issues with construction.
“I don’t see how this is going to work with construction going on, on both sites at the same time,” she said.
DSNY did not have any comment on construction dates, but a representative from the agency said that Sanitation is aware of Bellevue’s flood mitigation plan. According to the representative, that project is north of DSNY’s proposed project site and the department isn’t anticipating any significant impacts on the sanitation garage.
Another of Handal’s concerns is related to the impact that construction of the wall will have on traffic in the neighborhood, which is a major concern of the community’s in regards to the sanitation garage project as well.
“There’s a section (in the environmental assessment) where they write about traffic but it was amazing to me because it’s so cursory,” she said. “They’re saying not to worry about it, but given the traffic right now I don’t think they’re doing enough.”
The public comment period on the environmental assessment ended on August 8 and a representative for HHC said that Bellevue doesn’t know if there will be additional opportunities to comment because the project is FEMA-driven. Bellevue did not return a request for comment on other aspects of the project by T&V’s press time.