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As East River Park destruction continues, judge orders city to prove it’s not in contempt of court

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The infernal roar of chainsaws and construction machines in East River Park lessened a bit Monday afternoon after a judge signed an order for the de Blasio administration to show how it is not in contempt of court. Yet the destruction still has not stopped, with a renegade crew continuing to slash a path of obliteration through the historic park.

On Tuesday afternoon, the hard hats were reportedly attacking and ripping up the park’s landmark amphitheater, where Joseph Papp launched Shakespeare in the Park.

Judge Rowan D. Wilson of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, said he would address the contempt issue this Thursday afternoon. He also moved up to Thursday the hearing, previously set for Dec. 20, for the appeal of the lawsuit East River Park ACTION et al v. the City of New York. The lawsuit argues that an “alienation vote” by the state Legislature is required before the $1.45 billion East Side Coastal Resiliency project can go forward.

The plaintiffs’ attorney on the lawsuit, Arthur Schwartz, argues that a previous temporary restraining order, or T.R.O., from a lower court’s hearing of the case should be back in effect now because the Court of Appeals has decided to hear the case.

One of the workers who allegedly is continuing to tear a path of destruction through East River Park despite a judge’s order.

As soon as Wilson signed the contempt order on Monday at 2 p.m., some of the work in the park abruptly ceased. But not all.

In an incredible scene of destruction, over the weekend and up until that point on Monday, hard hats had been furiously working 24/7 to wipe out as much of the park south of Stanton Street as possible.

However, Kathryn Freed, a former councilmember and retired judge who is a co-counsel on the contempt matter, said, while most of the workers have knocked off, one “crew” is still out in the park wreaking devastation to any and all foliage, specifically, around the amphitheater.

“This is like contempt on top of contempt,” she said of the rogue crew. “This is like spitting in the face of the court.

“It’s not just the trees — they are cutting up anything they can get their hands on,” she said. “It’s like a blitzkrieg. It’s like scorched earth. They’re just destroying everything in their path.”

Freed said one of the members of the renegade crew, a woman, is recognizable by an N.R.A. sticker on her hard hat.

The scene at the East River Park amphitheater on Tues., Dec. 14, showing the historic venue’s seating ripped up and piled by the side, as destruction in the park continued despite a judge’s signing of a motion to show cause for contempt of court.

She noted that the trees around the amphitheater in Corlears Hook are some of the oldest in the park and may, in fact, predate the park itself, which is 82 years old.

“Some of these trees were there before,” she said. “It might not be landfill there.”

Some park activists venerate the area around the amphitheater as sacred land from when it was inhabited by the Lenapes, Manhattan’s Native people. The spot was also the site of a massacre of the Lenapes by the Dutch in colonial times, making some speculate that bodies are buried there.

Tommy Loeb, a member of East River Park ACTION, who has a view of the park from his window at Grand Street, confirmed the destruction of the park was continuing on Tuesday.

“They’re destroying everything, including the amphitheater,” he reported.

The dance oval before the destruction. (Photo by Allie Ryan)

That this one crew has still been out there, even after the judge signed the court order, speaks to City Hall’s stunning arrogance, Freed fumed, likening it to President Trump’s trying to invalidate the 2020 election results.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “This mayor says he’s such a liberal and progressive. This is Trump tactics. They’re spitting in the face of the city and the courts.

“This is the mayor or someone else deciding they’re above the law — and it’s really dangerous,” she said. “And de Blasio wants to be governor. What would he do if he was governor? Call out the National Guard to do this [project]? It’s despicable and it’s frightening for the mayor to act this way.”

A tree near the Williamsburg Bridge was cut down in the park on Monday at 1 p.m., one hour before a Court of Appeals judge signed an order for the city to defend itself against a contempt of court accusation.

Freed said it’s incumbent on the city’s Law Department to make the workers in the park halt their destruction immediately and at least until Thursday’s decision by the judge.

Speaking on Tuesday around 12:30 p.m., she said she had just sent an e-mail to Mackenzie Fillow, the city’s attorney on the case, demanding that all work in the park cease per the judge’s order.

Of course, the workers are motivated to keep at it because they are getting paid.

Freed said she is also pushing to move the appeal hearing on the alienation lawsuit up to Wednesday, in hopes of winning a decision then and ensuring that the term-limited de Blasio, who must leave office in two weeks, has one less day to do any more damage to the park.

The former councilmember said she has been under a constant barrage of phone calls to and from the city attorney, the press, activists and others about the shocking destruction of the park, which she lives right across the F.D.R. Drive from. The entire experience and the unfathomable fact that a beloved, historic park is being bulldozed right before her very eyes has been draining.

“I’m going to get off [the phone] and take some ibuprofen,” she said. “I have a splitting headache.”

12 Comments

  1. Andrew Lawrence Andrew Lawrence December 14, 2021

    D.C. had its January 6 for about four hours. January 6 for the Lower East Side Park is going into its second round-the-clock week.

    • Fallopia Tuba Fallopia Tuba December 14, 2021

      I’m predicting people will leave the city because of this; maybe not many, but I know a couple, for instance, who moved immediately to Bucks County, PA, after Penn Station was demolished. (As if to say, “That’ll show ’em!”)

  2. Richard Richard December 15, 2021

    De Blasio is so like Trump. Over the years he has violated many ethical norms, and lives in his own bubble of arrogant “I know what is right for everyone else.”
    And like Trump, he feels political leaders are above the law. And like Trump, de Blasio will leave office sullying the principle of the rule of law.
    Shame on the City lawyers for participating in this breaking of the law. Don’t they have any spine?

  3. Harold Appel Harold Appel December 15, 2021

    De Blasio as Governor: Clear-cut the Adirondack Park!

  4. JQ LLC JQ LLC December 15, 2021

    Guarantee when The Blaz finally announces and starts his farcical run for governor, he will finally drop his fallacious pretensions of being a progressive liberal he’s been posing as his entire abominable political career and promote himself as a “moderate pragmatist Democrat.”

    Here’s hoping his wanton corruption will finally catch up to him during his campaign and finally winds up indicted. If it can happen to OJ Simpson, it can happen to him.

  5. Chris Flash Chris Flash December 15, 2021

    The city wants DESPERATELY to spend the unnecessarily HUGE $$$$$ received from the feds to raise the entire length of East River Park by ten feet, which is ineffective and ABSURD. Most of those $$$$ will go into many pockets that have NOTHING to do with stopping rising water.

    The SMART solution (I’ve seen it done in many cities) is a FLOODWALL. The problem for the city is that a wall will cost a lot LESS, so there is less opportunity for CORRUPTION, and, as the wall will WORK, there’s no opportunity for perpetual construction to keep rising water out of the LES.

    As a judge has issued an ORDER that STOPS the city and its contractor from destroying East River Park, those violating said ORDER are supposed to be ARRESTED, not those protesting or attempting to stop the destruction.

    One can only wonder WHY DeAssio is in such a RUSH to DESTROY that park beyond repair as he has only TWO WEEKS before he must leave office!!

    — Chris Flash

    • LES3025 LES3025 December 15, 2021

      We’ll see tomorrow, but I don’t think a court has issued an order stopping the city from working on the project. The Appellate Division TRO expired when that court made its decision and the Court of Appeals order didn’t reinstate it.

  6. Kathryn Adisman Kathryn Adisman December 16, 2021

    I haven’t followed this closely – what is the purpose of destroying the park? What’s replacing it? What’s the stated objective? Who stands to gain? To me, this reads like deja vu Washington Square Park redesign. Orchestrated by NYU. Which I kept a diary on. The first action of construction workers was to take a jackhammer to the central fountain. And the trees around the amphitheater fell by the wayside.

    • Bornonbleecker Bornonbleecker January 16, 2022

      Kathryn, Thanks for remembering the mess that the redesign of our park represented. The park deserved a restoration which followed its original design, not a re-imagining per the head of Parks Dept. of that moment, George Vellonokis. I firmly believe his name will eventually be held in great disregard, due to his imposing his misguided, ( in my view,) vision of what our park should be. His hubris is exemplified in this video. Carol Greitzer saw him for what he was and saw the redesign as the mess it was.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVgVUmOJ7T0

  7. Jan Jan December 16, 2021

    Who stands to gain? It’s a climate-resiliency project, so in the long run, we all stand to gain. Since you haven’t been following this closely, why not look into the mountain of information available before trashing the project. You could start with this summary, or look at the Deltares report.
    https://council.nyc.gov/carlina-rivera/2019/11/12/council-members-chin-powers-and-rivera-reach-agreement-on-construction-plans-community-investments-for-east-side-coastal-resiliency-project/

    • Chris Flash Chris Flash December 17, 2021

      The city went through the motions of public input, only to ram a totally different “plan” down the throats of community members who contributed their time and energy in the process. This indicates what the city (read: de Blasio) had in mind all along: a perpetual “make work” project to “keep us safe” from rising water, requiring endless funding for doing and redoing work in East River Park.

      The fantasy is that raising the park by ten feet will stop rising water. The REALITY is that water will rise BEFORE that project is done, making the whole thing USELESS. But the city gets that HUGE federal cash infusion it can use as it pleases.

      The city is not interested in an EFFECTIVE solution (a FLOODWALL) that costs MUCH LESS that the federal bucks the city is getting, that requires MINIMAL maintenance and that does NOT require the leveling of East River Park.

      The effective solution means less money and corruption opportunities for the city and its shady contractors. THAT explains what the city is doing now!

      • Jan Jan December 18, 2021

        If you think a floodwall would require minimal maintenance, then it’s obvious you have not read any of the engineering reports and you have not even made an effort to understand the rationale behind the city’s decision.

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