Authority pitches anti-flood walls for B.P.C. ball fields

A rendering showing how a wall would be added to protect the Battery Park City ball fields from flooding during storm surges.

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | The Battery Park City Authority’s resiliency strategy to protect the Battery Park City ball fields and Asphalt Green Community Center could be completed as soon as 2021, according to the Authority.

More than six years after Superstorm Sandy, the Authority officially recently kicked off one part of its four-part resiliency plan at a public forum.

The $14 million, 27-month construction project includes flood-protection walls, with some sections that could be as tall as 8 feet surrounding the ball fields and Asphalt Green Community Center, which sit beneath two residential towers. The project area covers Warren to Murray Sts. and West St. to North End Ave.

But for some, a wall surrounding the fields would be a disaster for the community.

“We think they should let the field flood, and they should build the wall along the edges of the [community center] building itself,” William Rogers, Downtown Soccer League’s president, told the Nov. 19 meeting. “What they’re really trying to protect is the community center.”

With an 8-foot wall, Rogers said, “you are destroying the field as a center of the community.”

The flood wall designs could be much shorter than 8 feet during day-to-day activities, but be extended taller where necessary during a major storm. Deployable walls, which would be installed in the days before a storm, will also be a part of the design, according to the Authority’s project reps.

“Our points of greatest damage during Sandy were at Pier A, the ball fields and the community center,” Gwen Dawson, vice president of real property at the Authority, told this reporter. “We realized at the time what a significant issue it was to have those ball fields out of service.”

The ball fields suffered about $7 million in damage, but the Authority managed to get them back online within six months.

The Authority’s design team, STV, is expected to complete a final design by next September, though design alternatives could be publicized sooner, according to Dawson.

Others raised concerns field space would be slashed during the 15-month construction period — particularly in light of the new plan to raise East River Park eight to 10 feet and as Pier 40’s field space at W. Houston St. could change during ongoing repairs.

“What I’m concerned about is that Battery Park City may just be focused on their schedule,” said Bill Bialosky, commissioner for the Downtown Soccer League since 2008. “This is really just about getting it implemented in a way with as little impact as possible on all these kids.”

Around 1,900 kids play in the soccer league, with hundreds spread between the Battery Park City and Pier 40 fields. The Authority estimates a total of 50,000 kids from various organizations use Battery Park City’s ball fields annually.

Others emphasized the need to ensure safety and visibility with a new wall. Some feared people could lurk behind the flood walls or that they would decrease visibility of the fields for parents and the larger community.

The Authority did not have any designs to show this month, but is currently in the process of looking at underground utilities and soil composition in its efforts choose the best design alternatives.

“We can talk about [design] alternatives in a very generalized sense, but until the consultant team [and] the design team gets a better handle on what the physical site is like, what’s underground…it’s difficult to really come up with a set of design options,” Dawson said.

Since Battery Park City sits on top of built-out landfill, the poor-quality soil impacts how deep beneath the ground the Authority could build to fortify the flood-protection walls.

The ball fields protection project is a part of a larger resiliency plan with flood barriers and deployables beginning at the Museum of Jewish Heritage along B.P.C.’s western perimeter park walls and the north esplanade.

Since Sandy hit in 2012, the Authority has raised electrical equipment at the city’s Police Memorial, upgraded streetlights to be water-resistant and “wet floodproofed” the Pier A Harbor House, which is a type of floodproofing that allows buildings to be flooded with minimal damage in situations where preventing floodwater entirely is not viable.

“After Sandy,” said Dawson, “we spent a significant amount of time just trying to recover from the storm and determine next steps.

“It’s not something that we recently started paying attention to,” Dawson said of resiliency efforts. “It has been a process, and it’s allowed us to get where we are now with a feeling of confidence that we have really taken a close look at what the needs are and have a real viable strategy for addressing it.”

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