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$1.45 Billion Plan To Elevate East River Park Advances, Despite Some Local Opposition


The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project—the $1.45 billion plan to protect downtown Manhattan‘s east side against global heating and sea level rise—is one step closer to becoming reality. The City Council’s Land Use committee voted Tuesday 14-0 to move the climate plan forward, setting the stage for a full council vote on Thursday.

The ESCRP aims to protect 2.4 miles of coastline by raising the level of East River Park eight feet and installing a series of flood gates along the FDR. In an about-face last year, the de Blasio administration said the plan would require a complete closure of the 45-acre park for three years. In October, after months of public meetings and protests, the city agreed to complete the construction work in phases, with work beginning in the fall of 2020 and wrapping up by the end of 2025. Roughly half of the park will remain open at all times during the construction.

Local activists with the East River Park Action and East River Alliance say the city hasn’t done enough to address their concerns.

They argue that the current version of the plan will still leave the community vulnerable to flooding, uproot nearly 1,000 trees, and severely limit park access.

“The plan is about mitigating the construction,” said Harriet Hirshorn, an East River Alliance member. “No one is talking about the destruction of the park.”

The largest concern is that the ESCRP provides no interim flood protection measures. As of right now, East River Park acts as the only protective flood barrier this area has. But once under construction, 110,000 residents will be at risk if another strong superstorm hits during this rebuilding period. Approximately a quarter of this population live across 11 NYCHA developments adjacent to the construction areas.

An independent review, commissioned by East Village Councilmember Carlina Rivera and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, also noted the risk of a flood while the work on the park is ongoing.

“During construction, when parts of the park are closed and the trees are removed, a severe storm would not only damage the exposed park (equipment, hazardous materials, Con Edison lines, etc.) but may also propagate into the neighborhood more easily without being dampened by the ‘roughness’ of the park,” the review states, recommending that the city look into installing sandbags and deployable barriers, or other interim flood protection measures.

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Members of groups opposing the plan wore all black to mourn the “death” of the park.

Izzie Ramirez / Gothamist

Rivera acknowledged this gap in an interview with Gothamist and said the city is in the process of “reevaluating these IFPMs” and will likely prioritize flood protection in areas that were worst affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The councilmember added that she has pushed for the city to address community concerns like soil and air testing and noise monitoring. The ESCRP will primarily affect Rivera’s district alongside Councilmember Keith Powers and Councilmember Margaret Chin’s districts.

“This agreement was based primarily on the ideas and feedback that members of our communities offered to make implementation of this plan better than what was originally presented,” Rivera said at the vote. “I’m proud that our agreement includes nearly every commitment we requested, from phased, safe, and timely ESCR construction, to parks and NYCHA improvements, to re-examining interim flood protections and studying bikeways and the future of the FDR.”

Another consideration for the vote is $335 million in grant money from HUD. That money—earned through the Rebuild by Design competition begun after Sandy to build climate adaptation projects—is set to expire soon. Although the city has also invested a separate $1 billion budget for the ESCRP, councilmembers said they did not want to let that federal money go to waste.

Per the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the City Council will vote on the ESCRP on Thursday, which will be followed by the mayor’s vote and a finalization of the design by Department of Design and Construction. Construction will begin in earnest in the fall of 2020.

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