Building Storm Defenses While Turning a Profit

The Rockefeller Foundation unveils its innovative plan to incentivize private investors to provide the infrastructure solutions for eight U.S. cities most vulnerable to extreme storms and rising seas.

2 minute read

January 21, 2013, 8:00 AM PST

By Erica Gutiérrez


Hurricane Sandy has brought the need for effective disaster planning to the forefront, but the question remains as to how critical infrastructure projects will be financed in these austere economic times. Though public-private partnerships offer much potential, the bottom line still drives corporate investment, and profitability is no promise. Last week, however, the Rockefeller Foundation planned to announce its solution “to use an innovative financing strategy to help eight cities create defense systems against storm waters and the rising sea,” reports Ashley Halsey III.

She explains that the Rockefeller Foundation's proposed plan will entice investors like Verizon or Pepco, for example, to “finance a storm water defense project [in exchange for] the opportunity to install miles of underground cable while the streets were dug up for the water project.” The Rockefeller Foundation has apparently carried out similar piggybacking projects in India, Indonesia, Vietnan and Thailand. "We’ve been working on those cities that are either on river deltas or the most fragile ecologies, a lot of them having exactly the same terrain as many of our most vulnerable cities in the United States,” said Judith Rodin, the foundation's head.

The hope is to draw in the substantially greater capital needed to implement similar schemes in U.S. cities under threat, as well as to create a replicable blueprint. Though the Rockefeller plans to provide some preliminary funding for projects, the aim “is to attract private investors to move beyond pilots or demonstration [projects] to large-scale system financing,” said Rodin. “That’ll create a template for other cities to use as well.”

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