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We need East River Park — as is — for our own resiliency

BY HARRIET HIRSHORN | Not only is the East Side Coastal Resiliency project NOT on hold, but timelines have been pushed up.

Last month, we heard from Susan Stetzer, district manager Community Board 3 that the start date for the “early package for E.S.C.R.” was changed from Aug. 31 to July 6.

(However, Arthur Schwartz, the attorney on our community lawsuit to block the project, says a city attorney assured him that no construction work would start until September.)

I write from a personal point of view to let you know how shocked I am that New York City still plans to close parts of East River Park for demolition/flood control/reconstruction this fall. This park is already resilient, and we, having been through Sept. 11, Superstorm Sandy and now COVID 19, are resilient.

The park is a place to relax amid nature — while social distancing — away from the bustle of the city. (Courtesy East River Park ACTION)

This park plays a huge role in both our community’s social/emotional resilience and physical resilience to environmental challenges. But the East Side Coastal “Resiliency” plan, which requires bulldozing and digging up 60 acres of parkland, including 1,000 trees and every shrub and blade of grass within it, does not fall into this citizen’s definition of resilience.

I have lost neighbors and friends to the COVID 19 virus and, as an elderly vulnerable person who regularly uses this park for my physical and mental health, I feel that the park has saved me during the time of COVID. It is one of the few places I actually feel safe, walking beneath old shade trees, wearing my mask and seeing so many other individuals and families feeling/acting the same way I do after weeks of confinement.

Trying to get the message across. (Courtesy East River Park ACTION)

Our neighborhoods — the Lower East Side and Chinatown — have been designated as “Environmental Justice” neighborhoods, which specifically mandates that low-income, minority and other vulnerable groups are engaged and included.

Yet, for the most part, we have not been engaged and included. The decision to demolish the park — changing the plan from the original Big U design (in which some of us WERE engaged and included) — was made behind closed doors. A charade of community engagement then commenced through a ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process in which our voices were ignored. We testified tirelessly to no avail.

The park offers space for walking, biking, sports — which will start up again in phase three — and more. (Courtesy East River Park ACTION)

Today, those who I encounter in East River Park have assumed that the plan to destroy the park has been “paused.” There has been no communication with the community to dispel this belief. However, despite COVID-19 and the community’s desperate need for this park right now, the city is still bent on moving ahead with the project.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued guidance that in Environmental Justice neighborhoods, ongoing actions should include printed informational guidance delivered to the home of every impacted resident — yet this has not happened.

Indeed, we remain truly in the dark about this project to destroy the park, and we have never been given any information on how this destructive plan will impact our health, in particular, those of us who already have COPD or asthma.

Flowers in bloom in East River Park next to a footbridge that crosses the F.D.R. Drive. (Courtesy East River Park ACTION)

Digging up fill underneath a large municipal park that may contain contaminants that could affect our lungs, cardiopulmonary and nervous systems, while we are all still in a public health emergency and trying to manage our COVID-19 issues does not seem rational at all.

In fact, this is why we didn’t realize that this plan was going ahead as scheduled until very recently. In May, Lorraine Grillo, commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, said there would be a “shovel in the ground” by fall 2020, according to Izzie Ramirez in a piece on the E.S.C.R. in Pavement Pieces.

In what opponents hope is not a vision of the future, a barge passes East River Park piled high with sand. There will be countless more barges if the city moves ahead with its plan to demolish the park and bury it under 8 to 10 feet of dirt. (Courtesy East River Park ACTION)

Further adding to our vulnerability is the news that we are approaching a very active hurricane season, with minimal flood protection EXCEPT FOR THIS PARK, which during Superstorm Sandy absorbed around 250,000 gallons of water.  Potentially thousands of residents could be asked to evacuate and go to shelters — only, this time, COVID-19 will still be here, or will have come back as a second wave. I personally will be terrified to evacuate and go somewhere where I certainly will not be able to maintain a social distance.

When the City of New York will be facing tremendous economic challenges, education and social programs are being slashed, my neighbors are experiencing food insecurity at higher than ever rates, there are more humane ways to spend $1.1 billion of city funds than to demolish a beloved park.

Before COVID-19, this plan did not seem ethically or environmentally like the best option.

Post-COVID, it seems akin to murder.

Hirshorn is a member, East River Park ACTION.

11 Comments

  1. Ramon Ramon June 25, 2020

    Totally Crazy how Carlina and her cheerleading staff — which does not look at reality but only what their leader Donald Rivera says is O.K. (when told by Bill de Blasio and her donors) — could ever support totally destroying East River Park, as they have. Till they get their next job and disavow the ridiculous position.

  2. Carmen Velasquez Carmen Velasquez June 25, 2020

    Right on! yes, this plan was pushed in our throats by force. And the hundreds who testified against it during this ULURP farce have been fooled. No one cares what we think. Money talks.
    Save this park! save this billion dollars instead of giving it to corrupt city contractees!
    Carmen.

  3. Apelles Pinxt Apelles Pinxt June 25, 2020

    Show me the money! Who’s getting paid? How much will this cost? Who are the contractors? Which politicians are getting kickbacks? This looks like a pork-barrel project all around, squandering billions of dollars while the city is facing billions in lost revenue and billions more due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which we ARE STILL IN THE MIDST OF! This project is frivolous in the best of times, and now the city is in the midst of a financial crisis. This project stinks! It reeks of fraud and theft. Those who are responsible will be held accountable! Every corrupt politician and city contractor will be held accountable — forensic investigation now! If you think you can embezzle tax dollars in the midst of a financial crisis, then think about it in Prison, where you belong. Carlina and her cronies’ next seat will be behind bars.

    • Daniel Meyers Daniel Meyers June 25, 2020

      Thank you Harriet Hirshorn for your consistent and persistent efforts to stop the city’s demonic plan to demolish the East River Park — the jewel of the Lower East Side.
      With enthusiasm, let’s join Harriet and the others fighting to save our beloved park. If we remain impassive, we guarantee the park’s demise and our safety and well-being.

      • Barry Benepe Barry Benepe June 25, 2020

        Good work, Harriet. You are my hero!

        Barrybenepe

  4. Fannie Ip Fannie Ip June 25, 2020

    Thank you Harriet! There has been no news on the ESCR project and everyone in the community has been left in the dark, leaving many people believing that it’s on “pause” along with everything else in the city. Unfortunately, that is not true. I worry for the LES and everyone who uses the Park on a regular basis.

  5. Anne boster Anne boster June 26, 2020

    Right on, Harriet. You’ve said it so well. As a senior with lung problems the East River Park is a life saver. I can’t imagine a more ridiculous waste of money under the present circumstances than destroying a beloved park.

  6. Bill Weinberg Bill Weinberg June 26, 2020

    You know, the undemocratic way the “resiliency plan” is being imposed is dangerous, and the idea of losing East River Park for a matter of years (yet again!) is extremely demoralizing. But the opposition weakens their case by being less than honest about the real dilemma here. The experience of Sandy indicates that the park is NOT “already resilient.” Sorry.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | June 26, 2020

      Arthur Schwartz, the attorney on the community lawsuit, says the area west of the F.D.R. Drive was flooded by water coming in, not from the park, but from the north and south.

  7. Marcella Durand Marcella Durand June 27, 2020

    East River Park has been absolutely ESSENTIAL to our family during the pandemic. With Seward Park locked up for four months, ERP was the only place our family could go to get fresh air, exercise and relaxation. To go forward with the plan to demolish it during AN ACTIVE PANDEMIC is the worst, most corrupt kind of governance–putting your constituents’ lives and well-being at actual HIGH RISK. I will never vote again for any representative allowing this plan to go forward at this terrible time because they will have shown me their utter disregard for their communities’ lives during the time it counted.

  8. A. Colby A. Colby June 27, 2020

    Thank you! As a regular in East River Park, I see that the use has easily doubled since March. To start digging in September would endanger lives. Why can’t they put up the same berms they put up south of the park??? They can put them on the west side of the highway — or the east. Those berms were put in FAST — they could be installed quickly. There’s no reason to rush this ridiculous and dangerous plan.

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