By Wayne Parry
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. -- A string of artificial islands off the coast of New Jersey and New York could blunt the impact of storm surges that proved so deadly during Superstorm Sandy, according to a proposal vying for attention and funding as the region continues its recovery.
It's a big proposal that would cost $10 billion to $12 billion. But it's also the kind of innovative idea that federal officials requested as they consider how best to protect the heavily populated region from future storms.
"We've discussed this with the governor's office of Recovery and Resiliency and the Department of Environmental Protection, and they all look at me like, 'Whoa! This is a big deal!" said Alan Blumberg, a professor at New Jersey's Stevens Institute of Technology. "Yes, it is a big deal. It can save lives and protect property."
The "Blue Dunes" proposal is part of Rebuild By Design, a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to come up with novel ways to protect against the next big storm. It is one of 10 projects that will be evaluated and voted on next week, but there's no guarantee any of them will receive funding. Other ideas include building sea walls around cities, re-establishing oyster colonies in tidal flats to blunt wave action and creating water-absorbent nature and recreational preserves.
The artificial islands plan was created by Stevens Institute, along with the WXY architectural firm and West 8 Urban Design and Landscape Architecture. It is designed to blunt the worst effect of Sandy: the storm surge that pounded the coast. From Maryland to New Hampshire, the storm was blamed for 159 deaths, and New Jersey and New York alone claimed a total of nearly $79 billion in damage.