Friday, December 7, 2012
When the bladder bursts
From the NY Times:
On the last Sunday in October, with the storm on its way, railroad workers in yellow slickers unrolled a 90-foot-long rubber bladder at the gaping mouth of a tunnel on the West Side of Manhattan. They began filling it with water, 32,000 gallons. Once engorged, the bladder stood five feet high. It was a formidable plug intended to defend Pennsylvania Station against Hudson River waters surging from the west into the train yards, and from there into the station.
The bladder stood five feet high once it was filled with 32,000 gallons of water.
The plan, as a news release from the Long Island Rail Road said, was “to fight water with water.”
It looked like a good, prudent idea. Then the storm came.
The force of the rushing water simply shoved aside the bladder — approximate weight, 133 tons — and the flood moved toward Penn Station. Only the pitch of the tunnel diverted it away from the station and into another tunnel. The bladder was left in shreds.
As one railroad worker said, “There was so much water in the yards, you could have gone surfing.”
That episode came to mind on Tuesday morning at the groundbreaking for a 26-acre real estate project at, and above, those same train yards — what Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said was “one of the largest private developments ever undertaken in the country.” It is called Hudson Yards.
A hefty portion of the project’s 26 acres is within the 100-year-flood plain, just as the World Trade Center development is, farther south. At least for now, Hurricane Sandy does not seem to have slowed the momentum of history, more than two centuries of building right up to the margins of the three islands and mainland that make up New York City. Whatever shorefront once existed at the Hudson Yards site was long ago consumed, along with 300,000 other acres of tidal wetlands, as the city was hardened at its edges. The marshy land may have disappeared, but the tides have not gone anywhere.