A much sought-after ghost study of the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) that mysteriously could not be traced has suddenly been released to the public, but it is almost unreadable due to heavy redactions.
East River Park Action has been pulling at the threads of the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project for about three years now. The organization—consisting of concerned Lower East Side residents—are opposed to this $1.4 billion plan that would reconstruct approximately 57 acres of coastal parkland from East 25th Street to Montgomery Street.
In 2018, the rationale for moving forward with the ESCR project, rather than a less invasive one, was said to be based on a “Value Engineering Study.” The East River Park Action group filed a Freedom of Information Law request but was told in January by the City’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) that they did not have this report on file. East River Park Action is a strong opponent of the ESCR project since the reconstruction will remove over 1,000 trees, which will subsequently be replaced after construction, and pack the land with about eight to ten feet of fill to help elevate the park, making it flood-resistant.
Hurricane Sandy devastated the Lower East Side in 2012, and in response community leaders and city planning agencies had several discussions on how to prevent such large-scale coastal flooding in the area. Originally, a far less expensive plan was discussed for several years but was discarded in favor of the ESCR in 2018. The reasoning for this shift was based on a study that would showcase the pros and cons of this project as well as other pertinent information, which was announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
However, according to a tweet by Kirsten Theodos, who shared the report over social media the majority of its pages are blacked out, making it unreadable.
“The new City plan will destroy 57 acres of coastal parkland, fell nearly 1000 mature trees and eliminate the only large outdoor greenspace residents on LES for recreation and wellness. The City plan is twice as expensive, provides no interim flood protection during the many years of construction, & requires unprecedented ecological destruction of the largest municipal park on the LES impacting the residents of the predominantly low income, BIPOC neighborhood,” Theodos wrote in a tweet.
As stated on NYC ESCR project’s website, the plan is set to create “boundaries of this project correspond with the natural “pinch-points” in the 100-year floodplain: areas where the land is higher along the coastline, making it easier to close the system off from water entering from the north and south. The project design integrates flood protection into the community fabric, improving waterfront open spaces and access, rather than walling off the neighborhood.”
The report’s findings—which states that it was prepared for the City of New York Office of Management and Budget”—is entitled “East Side Coastal Resiliency Elevated Park Alternative Feasibility Analysis” and is dated April 24-26, 2018. The rest becomes a series of blackened lines where certain particulars have been redacted from public view.
Aside from City agencies, the report is not credited to who actually conducted it. Items such as risk comparison, recommended plan to encumber the HUD finding, and then there are just blocks upon blocks of blackened pages littered throughout the report. Even the graphics section was redacted.
According to the DDC, “The documents show that the City’s design – approved by the City Council – is the best alternative; it adds the benefit of protecting East River Park itself from future flooding. This project will protect vulnerable New Yorkers from extreme weather and rising sea levels, while improving an iconic public space for generations to come. It’s a global model and we’re proud to deliver it.” They also stated that they were not involved with the redactions and that would be under the purview of the City.
Laura Feyer, Deputy Press Secretary for the NYC Office of the Mayor, shared that those who request a FOIL are allowed to appeal some of the redaction but stated that East River Park Action has not done so yet. She also explained that FOIL responses include details for the redactions, which can be for privacy concerns.
“Please note, however, that OMB is redacting certain responsive information as follows: (1) inter-agency or intra-agency materials, which are not: (i) statistical or factual tabulations or data; (ii) instructions to staff that affect the public; or (iii) final agency policy or determinations, pursuant to New York Public Officers Law §87(2)(g); and (2) information which, if disclosed, would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, pursuant to New York Public Officers Law §87(2)(b),” she said, sharing the standard for FOIL redaction regulations.
Members of East River Park Action and others are calling for a formal hearing and investigation on the matter so that the public can be provided with substantial and factual information on the ESCR findings, as well as the pros and cons of such a reconstruction that will heavily impact residents of the Lower East Side.
According to a spokesperson for East River Park Action, “There are serious concerns about whether the East Side Coastal Resiliency is even a viable plan. The bids that have recently come in look like they will exceed the $1.45 billion the city has set aside. The additional eight feet of fill that will bury the park is unlikely to protect us into the next century. It might not even protect us into mid-century. There are other solutions that can provide equal flood protection for our Lower East Side and East Village neighborhoods without completely destroying our 82-year-old park. In fact, the park can act as a resilient sponge, absorbing flood waters, while a flood wall along the FDR Drive can protect our 110,000 low-and-middle income neighbors.”
In December, amNewYork Metro reached out to Council Member Carlina Rivera on some of the opposition to the ESCR and other up zoning issues that was brought up during a rally. In response to the ESCR resistance, she stated: “I certainly respect that people in our communities will have differences of opinion, particularly over a project of this size. And I think the majority of debate has been thoughtful and sincere by all. It’s why I pushed so hard for the numerous commitments the community sought with this needed storm climate resiliency project, including upgrades and expansions of countless neighborhood parks and NYCHA community facilities, new permanent protected bike lanes on Houston Street and Avenue C, a study on the future of the FDR, and increased agency oversight and community reporting during construction of the project.”
Jeremy Unger, a representative for Council member Carlina Rivera shared that she sent a letter to the Mayor the day after this report was released, requesting that the documents be de-redacted. He emphasized that Rivera has been an advocate for transparency from the beginning of the ESCR planning process and via the Community Advisory Group during construction. They are still awaiting a response to the letter.
The construction of this project is said to have begun in Fall 2020 and will continue through 2025.
amNewYork Metro has reached out to Council member Justin Brannan for comment.