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Park activists: Halt all tree work permits at Corlears Hook

BY DASHIELL ALLEN | At a January community board meeting Lower East Side and East Village residents were surprised to learn that trees in Corlears Hook Park would be cut down as soon as February.

According to information from the Department of Design and Construction, a large section of the park, including the old bridge over the F.D.R. Drive, would be closing imminently as part of the city’s East Side Coastal Resiliency project, which involves raising the entire park by 8 to 10 feet.

Friends of Corlears Hook Park, the nonprofit that maintains the green space, shared back in 2020 that a large section of the green space would need to be closed at “the pathway along the F.D.R. where an interceptor gate will be buried near the ball field, as well as new sewer piping that will transfer any rain and floodwaters out of the neighborhood as necessary.”

At the time, the nonprofit estimated that about 30 trees would be cut down — and it was unclear when or where they would be replanted.

Due to the piping and interceptor gate, the city stated at the time that no new trees would be replanted in the area.

Councilmember Christopher Marte, center, and former Councilmember Kathryn Freed, to the right of him, spoke out against the plan to cut down the trees on Cherry Hill in Corlears Hook. (Photo by Dashiell Allen)

Additionally, the Corlears bridge to the now-demolished amphitheater is set to be replaced, requiring even more trees to be cut down in the area known as Cherry Hill.

D.D.C. sent out a community advisory last month, stating that the “partial closure of Corlears Hook Park” would begin on Feb. 28. Since then, the date has been pushed back three times — first to March 7, then to March 14 and then to Mon., March 21, leaving the activists to wonder if it was due to a lack of “tree work permits,” which they say D.D.C. admitted to not having last week.

On Wednesday morning East River Park defenders gathered to express their outrage at the imminent work.

“E.S.C.R. is ecocide. E.S.C.R. is a land grab,” said Emily Johnson, a Native American land and water protector from the Yup-ik Nation, who lives on the Lower East Side. She slammed the resiliency plan as the “deforestation of Manahatta.”

“This is catastrophe,” she said. “This is criminal. We all here know that community is real resiliency. We all deserve green space, trees and flood protection.”

The activists support a previous plan that they say would provide flood protection without involving the park’s destruction.

Johnson called on Joseph Kocal, the director of Manhattan forestry at the Parks Department, to “halt all tree permits on E.S.C.R. Project Area One, and disclose all of the tree work permits that have been given up until now.”

Moving forward, the activist hopes Kocal can facilitate a “collaborative process” with the community to mitigate the damage of cutting down an eventual total of 1,000 trees.

“We’re lucky it’s raining today, because otherwise that toxic soil [containing mercury] blows over here every day,” Johnson said, pointing to the now-leveled southern portion of East River Park. “It is killing us every day.”

“No ecocide on the Lower East Side!” the crowd chanted. “Not one more tree!”

“My son is already complaining that some of these animals are coming,” said Sandy Charles, a nearby resident. “We saw possums in the neighborhood because they don’t have anyplace to go. So we’re not thinking about the animals.

Local resident Sandy Charles said wild animals displaced by the destruction of East River Park are now being seen wandering nearby housing developments because “they don’t have anyplace to go.” (Photo by Dashiell Allen)

“We are neglectful to us as humans,” she said. “We are all born on this planet to embrace, live and enjoy land. The park does not have to be destroyed for you to have good flood protection.”

Councilmember Christopher Marte stood beside the activists in the park on Wednesday.

“They wanted to be here two weeks ago to take down these trees,” he said of the hard hats. “And when we called them out to say that they didn’t have the permit to do so, and more importantly that they don’t need to cut down these trees, they pushed back. And now they’re gonna try again next week. And what we’re gonna do is continue to push back because we can’t kill any more trees.”

At the same time, Marte expressed “hope” in the new mayoral administration, hoping it would “correct the wrongs” made in the past.

On Jan. 21 Marte sent a letter to D.D.C. Commisioner Thomas Foley requesting air monitoring throughout East River Park. The letter noted that “the construction has been operating behind closed gates, so residents are understandably worried about whether any mitigating measures have been implemented to offset the air quality damage.”

Marte also pointed out that, at the same time trees at Corlears Hook Park and East River Park are being cut down, all five borough presidents released a plan last month to plant a “million more trees” over the next decade, calling trees “essential infrastructure.”

Baruch Houses activist Jasmin Sanchez said what is happening in East River Park and Corlears Hook Park is definitely an environmental justice issue. (Photo by Dashiell Allen)

At Wednesday morning’s protest, Jasmin Sanchez, a current candidate for state Assembly and a lifelong resident of the Baruch Houses by the East River, expressed her anger at E.S.C.R.

“Everyone always says that environmental justice and climate change is not a Black and brown priority or issue, and they have erased our voices,” she said. “I am here to say that is false. We are here because they are destroying our park, they are cutting down our trees.”

Sanchez stressed that the work is not providing immediate protection from the kind of coastal flooding that hit East River Park and bordering residential areas during Hurricane Sandy 10 years ago.

“I am a lifelong public housing resident,” she said. “My [housing] development was affected by Sandy and I saw the water coming in. I saw the importance of having these trees, the shrubs, everything to preserve my community. And now what I’m seeing is that this plan does not even offer the safety that my community needs and they are just destroying this park without running air monitor controls, soil testing — without even doing racial impact studies to how the destruction of this park will affect low-income Black and brown communities. And for me,” Sanchez said, “that is problematic.”

Kathryn Freed, a former city councilmember and judge who also lives in a complex bordering the park, agreed with Sanchez.

As well as their daily meet-ups in East River Park at Houston Street, the grassroots group A Thousand People A Thousand Trees is planning a mass gathering in Corlears Hook Park on Mon., March 21, the new date for tree-cutting and demolition work to commence.

25 Comments

  1. Linda Ruggiero Linda Ruggiero March 10, 2022

    Stop taking our beautiful, healthy trees away. You took our beautiful park away.

  2. Andrew Lawrence Andrew Lawrence March 10, 2022

    Lest we forget, Corlears Hook was the sight of most likely the first race-induced mass murder in our country:
    1642: “Volunteers attacked a … Weichquaesgeck camp at Corlear‘s Hook…. The heads of more than 80 victims were brought back to New Amsterdam for display…” Gotham, Burrows and Wallace, 1999

    (Gotham should be italicized. A.)

    • Andrew Lawrence Andrew Lawrence March 10, 2022

      1643, sorry. A.

  3. LES3025 LES3025 March 10, 2022

    “Emily Johnson, a Native American land and water protector from the Yup-ik Nation, who lives on the Lower East Side.” Come on, this woman moved here five years ago. She wasn’t here during Sandy. And Yup-ik people are from Alaska. (It seems like she and/or the article are using her heritage to imply that she has a connection to the indigenous people of the New York area.) She shouldn’t get to present herself like this to oppose coastal-resiliency efforts here and now.

    • Andrew Lawrence Andrew Lawrence March 10, 2022

      We don’t know who you are.
      You have forfeited your right to take shots.
      A.

      • LES3025 LES3025 March 10, 2022

        If who I am matters, then doesn’t it also matter who Emily Johnson is? Discount my opinion all you want, but I think we should also discount the views of someone who wasn’t here for Sandy and who seems to be using her identity to bolster her position.

        • Eileen Myles Eileen Myles March 27, 2022

          I lived in the neighborhood for 44 years and not once have I thought people who moved here more recently forfeit their right to care about flooding. You missed Ida? It’s not a club, environmental rage and passion, it’s a world view. You don’t even use your name. What’s the shame? Who are you working for? And since when does being a member of a tribe in Alaska have no relevance to the cause of indigenous people in New York? You are undermining warranted care and concern from behind a wall of racism and anonymity. Stand up and look at what we see. It’s a disgraceful lack of solidiarity and consciousness. Nice work. Who pays you to be racist — or does it come naturally?

          • LES3025 LES3025 March 27, 2022

            I actually agree with you that people who moved here more recently have the same right to care about the neighborhood. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called a transplant or told to go back to the suburbs by people on your side. It seems like your side cares a lot about when someone moved here, except, I guess, if the person agrees with your views.

            That aside, I do think people who were here for Sandy have a unique perspective on what that was like. If someone who came after did the work and got involved, they could understand that perspective. But, by all accounts, you and Emily Johnson first started getting involved with ERPA around fall 2020 (https://www.curbed.com/2021/05/east-river-park-nyc.html). You weren’t there for the years of planning meetings and community input. You showed up after the fact and are trying to sink the only feasible flood-protection plan that exists at this point.

            I’m also perplexed by this accusation that I’m being racist. I’m not the one centering Emily Johnson’s identity in this political argument. She’s doing that to give her position more authority and legitimacy and to insulate it from criticism, exactly as is happening now. But there isn’t an indigenous rights issue here, and her identity and work on decolonialism don’t entitle her views to any greater weight. If anyone is approaching this issue with a colonial mindset, it’s the person who just moved here, didn’t take part in the process that got us to this point, and is privileging her opinions and worldview ahead of the community she chose to join. That approach erases all the BIPOC voices who support the plan (https://thevillagesun.com/public-housing-leaders-and-allies-to-rally-in-support-of-east-river-park-resiliency-plan), and it deserves to be criticized.

    • ------m ------m March 10, 2022

      time is overdue for you to get over yourself…..!!!!

    • Alice O'Malley Alice O'Malley March 27, 2022

      What heritage are you calling on to discredit the rights of indigenous people to fight for environmental justice wherever they live? And what about the other BIPOC speakers — Jasmin Sanchez, Sandy Charles and Chris Marte — all longtime residents of the Lower East Side who weathered Hurricane Sandy and still reject ESCR? Are you erasing their voices? Park defenders are not in denial about the need for flood protection on the Lower East Side. We disagree with the premise that replacing a diverse ecosystem with a block of asphalt is climate resiliency. There’s an alternative plan that works with the ecology of the park, but it was sidelined by de Blasio. There’s still time to rethink this.

      • LES3025 LES3025 March 27, 2022

        If you think the plan is to turn the park into a block of asphalt then maybe you need to learn more about it.

        I’m not calling on any heritage because I think that’s a cheap form of argument (although members of my family were displaced in the slum clearances that preceded the construction of the LaGuardia and Baruch Houses, so I suppose I could if I wanted to). I’m also not the one casting this as some form of anti-colonial battle, which erases all the BIPOC voices who support the plan (https://thevillagesun.com/public-housing-leaders-and-allies-to-rally-in-support-of-east-river-park-resiliency-plan).

    • ariana ariana March 27, 2022

      LES 3025 should be banned from comments. This is a racist personal attack not a comment. Shame on you, SHAME.

  4. Jan Jan March 10, 2022

    Can you provide some documentation of DDC’s admission that they do not have tree work permits? It must have come in some written form. The link provided for tree-work permits is very specific about what kind of work requires permits. None of the listed items would apply to ESCR, which is an approved city project. Contractors would not be applying for specific tree-removal permits.

    • Alice O'Malley Alice O'Malley March 28, 2022

      Our most recent FOIL request came back with a work permit to destroy 620 trees in Project area 1. The permit is dated dec 7, 2021 – a day before NYS Supreme Court issued a restraining order on cutting trees (which was ignored by the City). The signature on the tree permit is illegible so we don’t know who at Parks Dept signed it.

  5. guest guest March 11, 2022

    “No work may be performed on or within 50 feet of a street tree without a Tree Work Permit from Parks & Recreation. Any person, business, or contractor wishing to remove or perform work on or within 50 feet of a tree on New York City property is required to obtain a permit from Parks & Recreation.”
    https://www1.nyc.gov/nycbusiness/description/tree-work-permit

    • Mindy Lonsier Mindy Lonsier March 11, 2022

      Why would the Parks Department not issue the permits to another city agency??? It doesn’t make sense.

      • Alice O'Malley Alice O'Malley March 28, 2022

        What Forester in good conscience would sign a permit to kill more than 500 healthy and mature trees, making up the largest tree canopy below Central Park? It could be an ethics violation.

  6. Mindy Lonsier Mindy Lonsier March 11, 2022

    The tree permits are issued by the Parks Department. Make them show the permits I guess but the mayor would just tell one agency to issue them to another. It’s a non-issue. Also “We all deserve green space, trees and flood protection” but they’re planting 3,000 new trees in East River Park and around and building flood protection.

    And I Googled “corlears hook park escr” and the fifth result is this

    https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/escr/downloads/pdf/2020-01-14-Friends-of-Corlears-Hook-Park-Design.pdf

    I don’t know if this is still current but it shows a lot of trees to be planted in Corlears Hook Park. I find the opponents of this project are not always reliable. It helps to look for other sources.

    • CW Gee CW Gee March 12, 2022

      You cannot ever replace large, decades-old, mature shade trees and the range of benefits and services that they deliver with new ones. Established trees provide 70% more benefits than new trees. Besides, what happened to the NYC Resiliency Plan to expand the tree canopy? Stop falling for the gift of new trees that they are promising you.

    • Alice O'Malley Alice O'Malley March 28, 2022

      Planting young trees doesn’t provide the same benefits as protecting old-growth trees. When August rolls around, I’d rather sit under an 80-year-old oak than a five-year-old sapling. The ESCR plan for the park will incorporate containers for trees since most of the surface will be asphalt or astroturf. How will this design allow for underground root systems that connect the trees, and will there be biodiversity in the soil?

  7. Johnny Johnny March 12, 2022

    “We Need Trees, and Trees Need Us” Sept. 20, 2021
    “Here in the United States we have spent decades wringing our hands about deforestation in the developing world, despite having done an incredibly poor job of managing our own old-growth lands. Now is the time to protect what’s left of the forests here at home, including the pocket parks and urban trees that cool our concrete jungles. The future of the planet depends, in part, on every tree we can save.”
    “Trees are, quite simply, the most effective strategy, technology, we have to guard against heat in cities,” Brian Stone Jr., a professor of environmental planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology”
    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/20/opinion/city-tree-nature.html

    “but they’re planting 3,000 new trees in East River Park and around and building flood protection. ”

    It’ll be another half century before the park will return to its former glory. Even with good fertilizer, trees don’t grow overnight and the natural infrastructure and cooling shade they provide will be slow to come.

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