Anger at resiliency plan overflows at City Hall

City Councilmember Carlina Rivera spoke at the East River Alliance’s press conference before the City Council special hearing on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project on Jan. 23. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | A recently revised city plan on how to keep East River floodwaters at bay in the event of another Hurricane Sandy produced a storm of anger and dismay at City Hall last week.

Before a hearing on the matter on Wed., Jan. 23, the East River Alliance, a new community-based group, held a press conference on the City Hall steps to decry what they slammed as the last-minute changes.

Lower East Side and East Village advocacy and community groups, along with local politicians who attended the press conference, said they were not consulted at all about the surprise proposal and want the city to put a hold on it until the community’s view is considered.

The city claims that by raising East River Park by 10 feet, it would save the park and surrounding areas from storm-surge flooding.

The city’s new higher-priced $1.458 billion East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan would replace the original one that was five years in the making and involved much community input. The new scheme calls for burying the entire East River Park from Montgomery St. to E. 13th St. under 10 feet of landfill and building a new one from scratch.

The original proposal called for large earthen berms — or possibly just floodwalls — to be built near the east side of the F.D.R Drive. This would have shielded the highway and large swaths of the East Village and Lower East Side from floodwaters. This was to be only the first link in a series of barriers around Lower Manhattan known as “The Big U.”

Last Wednesday’s press conference preceded a specially called 1 p.m. joint City Council hearing, at which officials from the city’s Parks Department and Environmental Protection Agency were present.

Obviously, East River Park’s baseball and soccer fields would be temporarily out of use if the revised plan proceeds and the existing park is buried under a new 10-foot-thick layer of dirt.

Speaking at the press conference, Councilmember Carlina Rivera said the new proposal “lacks a sense of collaboration between city agencies and local residents.”

Rivera, who called for the special hearing, stressed that the new proposal “needs to meet the expectations of residents and the neighborhood.”

Councilmember Carlina Rivera listens to an activist’s remarks.

Meanwhile, at the special hearing on the new East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan, Councilmember Margaret Chin said she was “thrilled” that the dialogue between City Hall and residents had begun with this meeting.

“But I want to make sure community groups who were influential in five years of developing the original plan participate in this one, as well,” she added.

Good Old Lower East Side a.k.a. GOLES doesn’t think the revised park plan is a very good idea.

Ayo Harrington, organizer of the East River Alliance, told the City Hall officials, “The changes proposed depart from a plan stakeholders believed were settled. I urge the City Council to do everything to prevent this plan that overrides years of community input from a broad range of stakeholders, and which would restrict access to a critical source of recreation and open space for Lower East Side residents.”

This past September, with no community input and to the dismay of local residents, the city announced that the entire former East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan was being rejected in favor of the new version.

Ayo Harrington, an organizer with the new East River Alliance, said the city totally left the community out of the process when it unilaterally decided to change the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.

The new $1.458 billion proposal is not only significantly more expensive than its $760 million predecessor, but it would also destroy all trees, plant life and infrastructure that currently exists within East River Park. Both the park’s field house and running track, which was recently revamped at a cost of nearly $3 million, would be buried beneath the added 10 feet of soil. What would happen to the park’s historic amphitheater remains unknown.

In defense of the new revised plan, city officials noted that, for one, it would not obstruct views to the river with a big berm or floodwalls. Also, they said, unlike the original plan, it would not require one lane of the F.D.R. to be shut down at certain times of the day for construction on the project.