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East River Park’s future hangs in the balance

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | The clock is ticking on East River Park.

Following a State Supreme Court justice’s ruling on Aug. 20 that the East Side Coastal Resiliency project can go forward, the path is clear for the city to start burying the beloved waterfront oasis under an avalanche of dirt.

Under E.S.C.R., 8 to 9 feet of new soil would be piled on top of the 58-acre park to raise it above the floodplain. All of the park’s foliage, including nearly 1,000 trees, plus all of its existing infrastructure — like the running track, ball fields and fire boat house — would be destroyed.

The mega-project could take five years or more to complete.

Working out at the track and field in the park at E. Sixth St. (Photo by Milo Hess)
The field inside the track is usually full of people stretching, working out and training. (Photo by Milo Hess)
DO tread on me: The springy E. Sixth St. track helps local residents keep fit and healthy, even during the worldwide health crisis. (Photo by Milo Hess)
The East River Park track is the go-to cardio spot. (Photo by Milo Hess)

But community opponents aren’t rolling over just yet. On Friday, their attorney, Village District Leader Arthur Schwartz, filed a notice of appeal for the court at the next higher level, the Appellate Division. This way, if the city suddenly moves to raze the park, the opponents can quickly go to court and seek an injunction to stop the work.

The plaintiffs include nearly 20 groups, ranging from East River Park ACTION and the Orchard St. Block Association to New York Climate Action Group and the 4th St. Food Co-op, plus around 70 individuals.

Now that’s a stretch! Doing resistance training in East River Park. (Photo by Milo Hess)

Meanwhile, amid the year of the pandemic, locals continue to flock to the precious riverfront open space to exercise, relax, socialize safely, walk dogs and more.

When the city might start work isn’t clear. Attorney Schwartz said the city has said, “Not before September.”

Charles Krezell, a steering committee member of East River Park ACTION, said, “We’re thinking October, but we really don’t know. They’re keeping us in the dark.”

Almost like in the country: A cyclist relaxes in the shade by a ball field in East River Park. The park’s tree canopy, which took many years to establish, would be completely wiped out if the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan is allowed to proceed. (Photo by Milo Hess)
Littering is an error on the East River Park ball fields. (Photo by Milo Hess)

The de Blasio administration has not issued any contracts for the work yet, though that could happen quickly. Funding has been allocated for the $1.45 billion project.

“They’re going full-steam ahead,” Krezell said. “I think they’re just disorganized. They want to spend the money.”

The park activist noted that the mayor and schools chancellor recently announced they are encouraging schools to use outdoor space for classes during the pandemic — which makes the push to demolish East River Park right now even more puzzling.

The breezy esplanade, featuring lots of space and a wide-open view along the river, is the perfect spot to jog. (Photo by Milo Hess)
It wasn’t too long ago that the esplanade was completely rebuilt after years of sitting fenced off. Will it all now just be buried under mounds of dirt and reconstructed all over again? (Photo by Milo Hess)

“You’re going to lose all those acres of potential schoolrooms?” Krezell asked incredulously. “The schools are asking to have class in the gardens and open space. The Department of Education is looking for open space. East River Park is perfect for classes.”

Krezell is also president of Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens a.k.a. LUNGS. He noted that, right now, the city’s Greenthumb gardens are only open for members to work in them, not for events.

East River Park is officially named after former Mayor John Lindsay, though no one uses the name. (Photo by Milo Hess)

LUNGS is hoping to hold its annual Harvest Festival in late September / early October, but right now, it’s not even clear how they’ll do that.

In general, the prospect of losing use of East River Park and seeing it razed is hard to fathom for the E.S.C.R. project’s opponents.

“That’s a big loss to the community,” he said. “It’s very disheartening. Barbecues, birthday parties for families — it’s invaluable, how much stuff is done in that park — even the guys working out at the [chin-up] bars.”

Governor Cuomo has O.K.’d gyms reopening, but only at limited capacity, so those pull-up bars are more needed than ever right now.

The mayor also recently announced that the city will issue permits for Little League games, which can start Sept. 15, meaning East River Park’s ball fields could be put back into use — though they would need to have their seriously overgrown grass cut.

In a grudging concession to the open-space-starved East Village and Lower East Side community, the city has said it would close East River Park in phases, always leaving some of it open for public use.

As of now, according to Krezell, it appears that in phase one, the E. Sixth St. bridge over the F.D.R. Drive — which connects to the running track — would be closed while the E. 10th St. bridge would remain open.

“The plans keep changing,” he said.

For its part, the city says if the park is not raised, then by the year 2100 it would be flooded twice daily at high tide due to rising sea levels. The city also claims it wants to replant the park with hardier foliage more resistant to saltwater, salt spray and strong river winds.

7 Comments

  1. PatJA PatJA August 29, 2020

    The city attorney made misleading statements (whether intentionally or through ignorance). The judge came away with the notion that the only way East River Park could survive was by building this massive levee. That is not correct. The park can be made more resilient and help to absorb floodwaters. Saltwater-resistant plantings and other structural elements (creating marshlands) can help keep our neighborhood safe from flooding.

    The flood walls should be built along the FDR Drive — and ideally, the highway should be covered by parkland — which will protect the neighborhood from flooding and cut down emissions and noise from the highway.

    Citing tidal flooding in 2100, as the attorney did, is really misleading. The current levee is only being built to accommodate sea-level rise to 2050. The kids in the neighborhood will see it fail and have to fight all over again.

  2. Fannie Ip Fannie Ip August 29, 2020

    East River Park ACTION meeting tomorrow (Sunday 8/30) at 11 a.m. at the Amphitheater!!!! Come share your thoughts on this plan and find out how you can help!!!

  3. Carolyn Carolyn August 29, 2020

    Thanks for printing. However one error: The Fire Boat House is not slated to be destroyed but to have a flood-barrier wall built behind it while the building is to be retrofitted to withstand flooding — moving offices upstairs and all mechanicals higher up in the building.

  4. Andrew Lawrence Andrew Lawrence August 29, 2020

    When the City this February made its final presentation to Community Board 6 (14th Street north through the richest zip code in the world), the presenter talked about “Steh-VESS-ant Town,” causing (hopefully) Peter Stuyvesant to roll over in his grave.

    The City hired folks who have no concept of our community. Hell, they can’t even pronounce it. This is a scam and boondoggle, putting Hudson Yards and Westway to shame.

  5. Barry Benepe Barry Benepe August 29, 2020

    Where does the Manhattan Borough President stand on protecting East River Park?

  6. Barbara Ruether Barbara Ruether August 29, 2020

    Didn’t The Netherlands do a similar huge project for the same purpose? It took years to finish but is now a very successful project and citizens are benefiting from its use and access now. They are very pleased, especially because it took a long time to be constructed and they had to believe it would protect them in future.

  7. Deborah Mills Deborah Mills August 30, 2020

    The 2 plus mile stretch of neighborhoods along East River Park will remain wide open to flooding throughout the proposed project – there is zero interim protection, zero protection against storm surges until completion. Sandy was awful; imagine Sandy without the trees and park to buffer the effects, but instead a loose mess of construction and fill between us and the water.

    1. So who believes this needlessly immense project will be completed on time and on budget? If NYC says 5 years, count on 10 to 15. We lost access to East River Park’s promenade for 10 years last time round.

    2. The PLAN is to essentially do the entire thing over again in 30 years – destroy every newly planted tree and structure (just as they reach maturity) and raise the whole park again by another few feet (See the Deltares report). This is beyond insane.

    3. NYC is in a deep hole financially, cutting essential services everywhere, and yet somehow the city has $1.2 billion to spend on destroying a park — all so some DeBlasio donor gets his payoff? We need FLOOD PROTECTION not PARK DESTRUCTION. The previous plan was half the cost because it created a flood protection system of berms along the park instead of DESTROYING A PRECIOUS RESOURCE that we all need more than ever during a pandemic!

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