AQF-studio-pictureSo, now we know why West Chelsea floods and we’ve figured out how to stop it. Part III covers how we actually accomplish it, given limited city coffers and the more pressing problems for residents in Breezy Point, The Rockaways, Staten Island and other flooded neighborhoods. The most efficient, though least economical, solution is to fence the water out and the product best suited for that is AquaFence.

 

This is not a compensated product endorsement. I can confidently say though that AQF is the best product, among many out there, to address the criteria for urban use covered in Parts I & II. But let AquaFence speak for itself. I have included images, videos and a PDF of the US Army Corps of Engineers evaluation report (read it here) so you can draw your own conclusions.

In a nutshell, the greater the force of water directed down into the right-angle created when AquaFence is opened and deployed, the more secure The Fence becomes. It can be reused in several storm events if maintained and stored properly, and it stores compactly yet deploys quickly.

 

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Deployment of AquaFence is very straight-forward. To view a video of the installation process please go here, there are two videos at the top and bottom of the page.

 

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ERDC Test Waves Overtopping AQF movie

 

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How Much Would The Fence Cost?

The following is intended to paint in very broad strokes the fundamentals of getting this done, with enough accuracy and detail to encourage a realistic discussion and more in-depth exploration beyond this article.

The short answer is $2,719,313, which, as we read in Part II, is about 17% of the cost of the most basic recovery from flood damage. An ounce of prevention…

Costs break down as follows:

• AquaFence 7 feet high comes in a standard width of 4 feet by 7 feet. 5,300 linear feet of fence would require 1,325 seven foot sections, with two corner pieces. The corners of The Fence in West Chelsea would not fit the standard 90˚corner unit. The north corner at Twelfth Avenue and West 30th Street is at a 78˚angle, the bottom corner at West 18th Street makes a 110˚ angle. The straight units flex 5˚ so I’m not certain if it could be fudged to fit or if custom corners would have to be fabricated. This assessment assumes they could not be flexed to fit and some customization would be needed.

$2,318,750 is the base price for enough AquaFence to form a mile-long barrier 7′ high at $1,750 per 7 X 4 foot section. Since water depths were less in the north than in the south, less AQF may be necessary. The sections fit together making water-tight joints and have a gasket on the bottom piece that forms a water-tight seal with the roadbed, provided it is level and in good repair. Twelfth Avenue is both along the curb lane. Little else is needed, other than a dozen workers to assemble all the pieces, tools, some pumps and emergency generators, all outlined below.

• Wind Abatement. The fence would need to be resist wind gusts of at least 50 miles per hour in tropical storm conditions, more in a Cat 1 or 2 storm. The entire western portion would expose approximately 27,000 SF of surface area, potentially blowing the fencing over backwards if the winds are strong enough. AquaFence can be bolted to the roadbed with 1/2 inch anchors, which is sufficient to resist 100 mph sustained winds, according to the company.

If you look again at the bottom video on their website, there appears to be a plastic cover that can be installed on the water-side than would present a taut surface at a 45˚ angle to the wind. Although designed to deflect debris, as shown, this may also be able to deflect some wind-force up and over the fence.

• Pumps and hoses will be needed to return any water that seeps under, sloshes over or is forced out of sewers, back into the river. Estimating that one pump every 200 feet would be adequate brings our costs, at $1,500 per pump, to $39,750.

• Back-up generators could cost an additional $5,000.

• Labor at $30/hour for 12 people working 12 hours is $4,320. Miscellaneous tools could cost $1,500.

• Shipping and Delivery is approximately 3% of the cost of the order, or $69,563.

• Storage on-site: 150 crates stacked four high would be enough for a one-mile fence, approximately 50 crates, taking up 1,000 SF at $30/SF in Manhattan for upper-floor space is $30,000 per annum, a bit less if stored outside of Manhattan, though that complicates delivery.

• 10% contingency or $250,000.

This preliminary estimate of $2,719,313, escalating 3% each year on the $30,000 per annum storage cost (this cost might be bartered by one of the storage facilities in West Chelsea) is conservative and possibly would be higher when union labor, traffic control during installation and permits are included, even with the contingency.

It would take fewer than 12 hours to deploy The Fence.

It could be stored for years before it is needed.

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Who Pays For The Fence?

There are a number of ways to fund this project that will be discussed shortly. In a perfect world, a FEMA grant, money from the State of New York, and The City should cover the costs. Unfortunately, we haven’t lived in that world since 2008, if we ever did.

However, a significant portion should come from those sources since The Fence would be protecting Federal, State and City leaseholds, easements or owned property. Listed below are government agencies that benefit, the percentage of total area they occupy in West Chelsea, and their apportioned share of the cost:

 

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The City, State and Federal Government share 40.4% of the cost, or $1,099,473. The largest portion, about $699,943, should come from the Department of Transportation because The Fence keeps the water off the streets and sidewalks, which constitute 26% of the total surface area of West Chelsea. That leaves $1,619,840 to be shared by owners and tenants who occupy the remaining 1,824,428 SF. Costs should be evenly apportioned among the beneficiaries of The Fence according to the proportional area they occupy, as shown below.

As was mentioned in Part II, the cost of hardening a single luxury residential building on a 3,500 SF lot is costing about $1 million, or $266.67 per square foot, for one building. The cost drops to about $1.30/SF if a single-barrier solution is shared by all buildings in the district. A rough estimate of the general apportioned amount per building, business or occupant can be found here.

 

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Non-Profit Needed

With any fund-raising effort, a 501c3 would be needed to administer the project, collect and distribute contributions and provide a tax deduction for public largesse. Frankly, I’m surprised that after almost 20 years there is no West Chelsea art dealers association or BID already in place. NADA, the ADAA, NYFA or some other extant non-profit currently serving the industry could be used to administer the project.

Donations

Speaking of public generosity, we’re not talking about an extraordinary sum of money here. $1 million is a standard charitable contribution for many patrons of the arts and collectors. Foundations could provide grants as well. Still, a non-profit would need to provide the incentive of a tax-deduction and administration of the fund. Any fund-raising activities or applications for grants should begin soon.

Creative Time!

A novel approach could be in the form of a public arts project: The Mile Mural. A group whose core mission is to organize public arts events could organize and promote a fund-raising event where the galleries in West Chelsea solicit their artists to volunteer and “muralize” The Fence. AquaFence could supply the fence pre-gessoed on one side to accommodate paint, and permits could be acquired that would allow The Fence to be temporarily installed, like a street fair. Since the vertical side faces the sidewalk with the fence installed in the street close to the curb, viewers could easily experience the entire mile and donate or purchase linear feet, like a mile-long version of a Square Foot Show. AquaFence could provide the required amount of product under a separate deposit agreement; certainly its in their best interest to demonstrate how it would work installed and how easy it is to deploy. Anyone who is moved by art or visits galleries as well as patrons could buy linear feet to fund the purchase.

Do It Yourself

The DIY approach could be accomplished in several ways, though it is more complex and less manageable. AquaFence has a financing program where the purchase amount could be paid off over four years. Landlords could purchase The Fence, then pass on part or all of the costs to their Tenants over time. This would be voluntary and may not work since there is no provision in the lease to make this binding, although it may be considered a Capital Improvement that some leases address. Alternately, the 285 galleries in West Chelsea could contribute about $9,541.45 each, or split the cost with Ownership, to purchase The Fence outright, a fractional amount compared to the costs of recovery. They could recoup part or all of their contribution through a public arts project like the one described above. This would require some organizational body to administer collection and procurement, and provide tax incentives. KickStarter is not an option because the project would qualify as a “cause”, which is disallowed.

The City Of New York

The City could fund this project in whole, then subtract it’s share of $918,618, bill Washington and Albany for their share of $180,855, and collect the balance by assessing a special, one-time property tax increase levied proportionally among the Owners, who would pass the increase on to the Tenants according to their proportional use of the building, as provided for in the leases. If the balance of $1,619,840 was collected according to the Owner’s proportional share of area square footage (the lot dimensions, not the total building square footage) in the protected areas, an increase of $0.68 per area square foot across all buildings in the district should reimburse the City’s remaining outlay in full.

For example, the Owner of 529 West 20th Street, a 9,200 SF lot, would receive a tax bill for $6,256. Assume the Owner covered 50%. Then a tenant leasing 5,500 RSF in this 110,000 SF building has a 5% proportional share of the remaining 50% as per the lease terms. That gallery would pay a non-compounding, one-time special annual tax increase of $156.40, or $13.03 per month. If the full amount was passed through to the Tenant, the bill would be $312.80, a comparatively smaller price to pay than having the power off for two weeks, or worse.

Or something along these lines.

The Department of Finance has a system already in place for delivering tax bills and the lease agreements should make it binding. Legal counsel should be consulted. Money is tight though, and honestly, the poor folks whose personal lives were washed away by Sandy’s Surge are more important than art-related commercial concerns. Still, using West Chelsea as a proof-of-concept demonstration would assist The City in determining immediate solutions for residential protection, possibly with AquaFence.

Keep in mind that this does not include businesses and residences east of Tenth Avenue that were impacted by flooding, also beneficiaries of The Fence.

 

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The benefits of The Fence will become obvious when the next storm hits and flooding is prevented. With galleries under pressure from a diminished retail art market, a shift in wealth from west to east, development, rising rents that take bigger bites out of sales receipts, and the threat of flooding with it’s concomitant recovery expenses and heftier insurance premiums, a dry West Chelsea is just one less thing to worry about.

 

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