Nation roundup for June 12


Levees, removable walls proposed to protect NYC

NEW YORK (AP) — Removable floodwalls would be erected in lower Manhattan, and levees, gates and other defenses would be built elsewhere around the city under a nearly $20 billion plan proposed Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to protect New York from storms and the effects of global warming.

The plan — which would also include the building of marshes and the flood-proofing of homes and hospitals — is one of the biggest, most ambitious projects ever proposed for defending a major U.S. city from the rising seas and severe weather that climate change is expected to bring.

It was outlined seven months after Superstorm Sandy drove home the danger by swamping lower Manhattan and smashing homes and businesses in other shoreline neighborhoods.

“This is urgent work, and it must begin now,” Bloomberg said in a speech at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, acknowledging that much of the construction would extend beyond the end of his term this year.

“Piece by piece, over many years and even decades, we can build a city that’s capable of preparing better, withstanding more and overcoming anything.”

A roster of environmentalists and real estate interests hailed the $19.5 billion proposal as far-reaching and comprehensive. Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner commended Bloomberg for “leading the way in finding creative and sustainable strategies for cities to become more resilient and secure.”

Still, it remains to be seen how the ideas will fare in a future mayoral administration and what kind of support — financial and otherwise — they might get from the federal government and other entities, not to mention from New Yorkers themselves.

Bloomberg said the city and federal money already allocated for Sandy relief would provide $10 billion for project, and the city believes it could get at least an additional $5 billion in federal money.

In a 400-page report on the plan, city officials said other options include a small surcharge on homeowners’ insurance, around $1 a month for a homeowner who pays a $1,000 premium a year.

Bloomberg acknowledged that some of the ideas could block views of the water and otherwise prove controversial, but “if we’re going to save lives and protect the lives of communities, we’re going to have to live with some new realities.”

After Sandy, at least some New Yorkers are ready for it, said James Molinaro, the borough president in hard-hit Staten Island, where the plan calls for a 15-to-20-foot levee to guard part of the island, among other measures.

“The constituents that I talk to would take a 15-foot wall tomorrow,” he said.

The plan does not call for the construction of giant storm-surge barriers to protect all of New York Harbor — an idea some researchers and residents have promoted but Bloomberg has long called impractical.

But the mayor said smaller systems of gates and levees should be built to help shield a creek in Brooklyn and possibly other waterways that can carry floodwaters inland.

The removable floodwalls in lower Manhattan would essentially be a system of posts and slats that could be put up before a storm. They would be at ground level, perhaps combined with planters or an esplanade. The approach is used along some Midwestern rivers and in the Netherlands, city officials said.

The recommendations also include building dunes in Staten Island and the Rockaways, firming up the shoreline with bulkheads in various neighborhoods, and perhaps constructing a levee and a sizeable new “Seaport City” development in lower Manhattan.

In addition, the mayor suggested giving $1.2 billion in grants to property owners to flood-proof their buildings and $50 million to nursing homes to improve theirs; making hospitals even in rarely flooded areas upgrade their pumps and electrical equipment; and expanding beaches and marshes.

“This plan is incredibly ambitious,” Bloomberg said.

It would dwarf the estimated $12 billion that the Army Corps of Engineers has spent so far to improve the New Orleans area’s floodwalls, gates and levees since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The sweeping proposals represent a big step up in scale and urgency for a mayor who has for years emphasized the threat climate change poses to the nation’s biggest city, which has 520 miles of coastline.

The recommendations draw from updated predictions from the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a scientists’ group convened by the city.

The average day could be 4 degrees to nearly 7 degrees hotter by mid-century, the panel estimates. A once-in-a-century storm would probably spur a surge 5 or more feet higher than did Sandy, which sent a record 14-foot storm tide gushing into lower Manhattan.

And with local waters a foot to 2½ feet higher than they are today, 8 percent of the city’s coastline could see flooding just from high tides, the group estimates.

Over the years, the city has required some new developments in flood zones to be elevated and has restored wetlands as natural barriers, among other steps.

“Sandy, obviously, increased the urgency of dealing with this and the need to plan and start to take concrete steps,” Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway said Monday.

U.S. stocks end a choppy day with a loss

NEW YORK (AP) — Renewed concerns that central banks will ease off their support for the global economy hit the U.S. stock market Tuesday, wiping out its gain for the month.

It looked bad from the start. Indexes began sliding from the opening bell, trailing markets in Asia and Europe, which were rattled when the Bank of Japan decided not to take any new steps to spur growth in the world’s third-largest economy.

The news out of Japan added to questions surrounding global central banks, investors said. U.S. markets have been shaken by speculation that the Federal Reserve will start curtailing its own bond-buying program in the coming months.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at the brokerage BTIG in New York. “People are worried about the Fed. They’re worried about a spike in interest rates. And then Japan says it’s finished for now.”

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 116.57 points to 15,122.02. That’s a decline of 0.8 percent. It fell as much as 152 points in the first hour of trading, climbed back by midday and then sank in the afternoon.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 16.68 points to close at 1,626.13, a loss of 1 percent. All 10 industry groups in the index dropped, led by banks and energy companies. The S&P is now down 0.3 percent for the month.

The S&P 500 index has lost 2.6 percent since setting a record high on May 21. The next day, minutes from a Fed meeting suggested the central bank could decide to scale back its stimulus as early as June if the economy picks up.

Sprint Nextel gained 17 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $7.35 after Japan’s Softbank raised its offer for the company. Softbank’s total bid for the country’s third-largest phone carrier is now valued at $21.6 billion, still short of the $25.5 billion offered by Dish Network.

Overseas, the Bank of Japan voted on Tuesday to stick to its current bond-buying program, disappointing those who had expected the bank to widen its effort. Japan’s Nikkei stock index lost 1.5 percent.

Major stock markets in Europe also slumped. Germany’s DAX dropped 1 percent and France’s CAC-40 lost 1.4 percent.

The world’s biggest central banks have bought trillions of dollars worth of bonds in recent years, pressing long-term interest rates down in an attempt to encourage borrowing and spending. In the U.S., the Fed buys $85 billion in bonds each month.

With plenty of signs the U.S. economy is improving, many on Wall Street expect the Fed will start cutting back this summer. That’s one reason traders have been selling bonds, pushing the yield on the 10-year note from a low of 1.63 percent last month to 2.18 percent on Tuesday.

Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago, said it’s only natural that investors feel a little nervous after such a sharp rise in long-term interest rates. For starters, they’re just not used to it. Many investors have grown used to seeing rates head steadily lower over the past 30 years.

“It’s an adjustment period,” Ablin said. “You want a stronger economy, OK, but that’s coming with higher interest rates. Most people in the business have never encountered that.”

In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note touched a 14-month high of 2.29 percent before heading back down to 2.18 percent in late trading, according to Tradeweb. That’s down slightly from 2.21 percent late Monday.

The dollar fell sharply against the Japanese yen, sliding to 96.22 yen from 98.70 yen late Monday.

In commodities trading, crude oil fell 39 cents to $95.38 a barrel in New York. Gold dropped $9 to $1,377 an ounce.

The Nasdaq composite fell 36.82 points to 3,436.95, a drop of 1 percent.

Among other companies making big moves:

— Lululemon Athletica plunged $14.43, or 18 percent, to $67.85 following news that the yoga-clothing maker’s CEO will step down as soon as the company’s board finds a replacement.

— Dole Foods soared 22 percent after the company’s CEO and his family offered to take the fresh fruit and vegetable company private at $12 per share. That bid values the company at $1.1 billion. The company’s stock gained $2.26 to $12.46

— Corinthian Colleges sank 32 cents, or 12 percent, to $2.46. The company disclosed that it’s under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and has been asked to turn over information on student attendance, recruitment and defaults on federal loans. The Santa Ana, Calif. company runs the Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges.

A cheeky problem: NJ town to restrict baggy pants

WILDWOOD, N.J. (AP) — Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr. thinks he’s found a way to put one of this Jersey shore resort town’s problems behind it. Wildwood is ready to ban overly saggy pants, no ifs, ands or butts.

The city is set to pass a law Wednesday regulating how people dress on its boardwalk. It bans going shirtless, as well as walking on the boardwalk with bare feet.

But the provision that has gained widespread attention is a prohibition on pants that sag more than 3 inches below the hips, exposing either skin or underwear. Troiano said Wildwood has been inundated with complaints from tourists upon whose money the popular beach town depends for its survival.

“When you have good families who call you up and say, ‘I’ve been coming here 20 years, 30 years, 40 years and I’m not going to any longer because I’m not going to subject my children or my parents or grandparents to seeing some kid walk down the boardwalk with their butt hanging out,’ you have to do something,” he said. “I’m not one of the Fruit of the Loom underwear inspectors; I’m not one of the grapes. I don’t want to see it.”

Neither does Frank Krueger, of Gloucester City, N.J., who has been coming to Wildwood with his wife, Denise, for decades. Together, they had spent about $80 on pizza and games of chance in two hours of strolling the boards.

“You want a family atmosphere here,” he said. “You don’t want to see someone walking around with their butt crack hanging out. On the beach is one thing, but not here on the boardwalk.”

“It’s disgusting,” his wife added. “I don’t want to see someone’s bare butt. It just looks terrible. They walk around with their legs spread, and their crotch is down around their knees.”

John Peters was not sporting his pants quite that low Monday on the boardwalk. But they were still low enough that half his navy blue briefs were exposed. He had not heard of the proposed law but said he was unconcerned about it.

“That’s not low, compared to some of the others,” he said.

Known popularly as “sagging,” the trend originated in the U.S. prison system, where inmates are not allowed to wear belts. It was popularized by hip-hop artists and embraced by youths.

The issue has cropped up — or rather, drooped down — in towns across the country. Authorities in suburbs of New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., are among those who have passed laws banning overly droopy pants.

The proposed Wildwood law would set fines of $25 to $100 for a first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses. Having to do 40 hours of community service is also a possibility.

Bathing suits are already prohibited for both sexes on the boardwalk, unless covered up by other clothing.

Ruthann Robson, a City University of New York law professor and author of the upcoming book “Dressing Constitutionally,” says the Wildwood law appears to be unconstitutional.

“Courts have struck down attempts to ban saggy pants if what is exposed is underwear rather than ‘private parts,’” she said. “As for municipalities requiring men to wear shirts, at least one federal appellate court has said that is ‘irrational.’”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey declined to comment on the proposed law, but other ACLU chapters elsewhere in the country have denounced similar bans as unconstitutional.

Troiano said the city’s legal department has reviewed the proposed law and is confident it will withstand a court challenge, which he conceded will probably happen at some point. He promised police won’t be out with measuring tapes, relying instead on common sense when evaluating a person’s attire.

“They say it’s a fashion statement and this is America and they have the right to dress how they want,” Troiano said of those who wear their pants low. “Well, I have the right to decency. My right is not to have to look at your (rear end) if I don’t want to. I find that offensive. Go somewhere else and do it, and for every one person I lose, I’ll gain 10 more who will be glad.”

Officials: Woman approaches kids with chain saw

WINFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri woman is accused of trying to scare children by approaching them with a chain saw while wearing a ski mask.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department says Lynn Marie Herzog of Winfield, Mo., is charged with felony harassment in the Sunday incident.

Patricia Manker called the police after she saw Herzog yelling at her son and his friend and walking toward them with the mask and chain saw.

According to a probable cause statement, Manker and another neighbor say the 50-year-old woman has also been seen photographing and videotaping neighborhood kids.

Herzog is jailed on $10,000 bond. She doesn’t have an attorney.

Sheriff’s department spokesman Andy Binder said the chain saw was not running during the alleged incident. Manker told police she didn’t believe the children were in danger.

 

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