Flood of concerns over E. Side resiliency redo

The revised design for the East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan calls for three new pedestrian bridges over the F.D.R., including one at Delancey St., above.

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | On Monday, the city released new design renderings of the recently overhauled East River Park resiliency plan. The $1.45 billion project, which would cover from Montgomery St. to E. 13th St., would bury East River Park with 8 feet of dirt and rebuild a new park on top of it, in order to protect the East Side from coastal flooding. The project would close the park for three-and-a-half years.

The new plan “enables us to build the project faster, delivering the flood protection for the community one hurricane season earlier,” said Jamie Torres-Springer, first deputy commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction.

The project calls for replacing three pedestrian bridges over the F.D.R. Drive, redoing the park amphitheater and adding waterfront access points.

At a community engagement meeting Monday night, Lower East Siders slammed Torres-Springer and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver for attempting to cut short a question-and-answer period.

City officials tried to have attendees ask individual questions about renderings and options by adding suggestions on sticky notes — so-called “community engagement” techniques the city has done for years about the resiliency project.

A rendering of how a major storm surge would impact the running track in East River Park at E. Sixth St. under the city’s previous coastal-resiliency plan.

The plan could go through the months-long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure as early as this spring, Torres-Springer said. Construction would occur from March 2020 through fall 2023. Silver said the work would include creating new playing fields and facilities, but many doubted the project would stick to the time line.

“We have a track record with the city that shows those promises have not been kept,” said Lee Berman, Democratic district leader for the 65th Assembly District.

Residents from all parts of Downtown have raised concerns over kids’ playing fields at community meetings this year due to the pending construction at East River Park and on the Battery Park City ball fields and the ongoing work at Pier 40.

“I would suggest a ferry to be available to take families to Governors Island,” said Daisy Paez, another district leader for the 65th A.D. Low-income children living in public housing especially rely on the park, she said, adding, “They’re already stressed out in that deplorable condition and then you’re going to take away their stress relief?”

A rendering of how the E. Sixth St. running track would withstand a storm surge thanks to the revised coastal-resiliency plan, which would raise the existing park’s height.

Torres-Springer noted, “It’s not a decision that’s taken lightly.” The city is studying how to phase construction and reopen portions of East River Park before 2023.

Previous plans called for constructing a barrier at the F.D.R. Drive that would have required four years of night closures and noisy pile-driving, according to the city. Under the new plan, construction is also simplified because the park would be used for a staging area for equipment and barge access.

The city says the new plan would offer “improved constructability,” above, because the work would be done at day and farther away from the F.D.R. Drive and residents’ homes.

As the city is arguing, and as is illustrated above, under the former resiliency plan, a lot of the park would still be subject to flooding since the main elevation increase would be near the F.D.R. Drive. Under the new plan, however, the whole park would be raised, better protecting it from flooding, and also allowing the park’s bulkhead — or edge along the water — to be rebuilt.

But it took the city four years to realize the pitfalls of the previous plan, to the chagrin of locals and Downtown politicians, who have several unanswered questions.

“Part of the problem is the city can’t answer basic questions about why this is necessary and what range of options they’ve considered to protect this community for resiliency,” said state Senator Brian Kavanagh. Kavanagh sent a joint letter with nine other Manhattan pols to the Mayor’s Office last week outlining their concerns.

“On some level, the proposal here today is to destroy this park in order to save it,” Kavanagh said. “And if we could be persuaded that this is the only way to protect the community from catastrophic storms, that would be a good start to this conversation, but unfortunately this city, after many years of planning, decided without consultation to scrap the original plan and announce an entirely new plan.”

Flooding left by Hurricane Sandy on Avenue C by the Ninth Precinct six years ago.

Previously, the project required state approval through so-called park “alienation,” Kavanagh noted. This spring, local elected officials were briefed on the timing of such legislation, the pols’ letter said.

“I understand the concerns about protecting the park and I want to protect the park, as well, but we also have a community that uses the park on a regular basis,” stressed Assemblymember Harvey Epstein.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera said in a statement, “If the mayor can clearly show that the previous, community-led version of [the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project] would not provide the sufficient coastal protections needed, the city needs to be forthcoming about that. If they are pursuing this version out of convenience for the drivers who use the F.D.R. or because they are concerned about finishing the project on time, they should also detail that, as well.”

For now, Rivera said, “Until these questions are answered, I cannot back the direction the Mayor’s Office has decided to take.”

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