How High the Floods of Sea Level Rise? Check the BPC Lamp Posts.

Noe Velasquez from BPCA Parks Operations puts the finishing blue touches on a lamp post at the north end of Battery Park City. The top of the blue is 19 feet above sea level. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Apr. 22, 2022

“Looking at this makes me anxious,” Battery Park City Authority president and CEO B.J. Jones said, glancing up at a Wagner Park lamp pole, with its 10-foot-high coat of fresh blue paint.

Jones was checking the first of 11 posts that the Authority repainted blue this week along the neighborhood’s waterfront esplanade. Each pole, some painted higher than 20 feet above sea level, graphically illustrates how sea level rise could inundate the area. 

“The blue color represents the height of potential flooding from future severe weather,” an accompanying sign reads.

The newly painted posts are also the Authority’s way of explaining to the public, in no uncertain visual terms, why it is undertaking a complex series of flood barrier systems, with construction that will impact the neighborhood’s public spaces for years. Coming up in August is the closing of Wagner Park. When it reopens two years later, the reconfigured 3.5 acres will be elevated as high as 12 feet. Flood protection planning is in earlier stages for the rest of the neighborhood’s waterfront.

The alarming future of sea level rise and the storm surges that go with it are often depicted in flood maps and abstract data that is not easily understood by the public, Jones noted. “We needed another way to also tell the story about why we have to do these things.”

“In large part,” he added, “people do perceive that need. But as we get further away from [Hurricane] Sandy and from any type of such events, it’s easy to become complacent.”

The anticipated height of flooding above sea level varies along the esplanade, from 18.5 feet at North Cove to 23 feet at Belvedere Plaza, north of North Cove. Those estimates,  by the New York City Panel on Climate Change, are based on a storm that would have a 1 percent chance of occurring each year for the next 100 years, if it struck in 2050.

The new blue light poles “are about the climate crisis we need to adapt to, not just in Battery Park City but everywhere in New York City and other coastal communities,” Jones said. “So I hope this will help people understand what we’re up against.”