Parks Commish: “Quite Frankly… Not Satisfied” with East River Park Progress

Photo by Bill Strom.

WNYC posted a story this morning that’s sure to get Lower East Side residents talking. It’s an update on the problem-plagued reconstruction of East River Park, a project that has dragged on for a decade. Matthew Schuerman reports:

The city has reopened the park — snuggled between the FDR Drive and the water — segment by segment, as each segment is finished. The playing fields were revamped several years ago. A long stretch of the promenade opened earlier this year. But the three or four southernmost blocks are still shrouded behind a chain link fence.

And how does the city explain why it’s taking so long to finish the job?

“Quite frankly, I’m not satisfied with the pace of this project,” (Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe) told WNYC. “There have been times when I’ve gone there and thought I don’t think they have enough people on the job.”

The Parks Department chose the contractor, Pile Foundation Construction Company, in 2004 because it was the lowest bidder. According to an internal memo at the time, a database check uncovered some issues that came up during previous jobs that contractor conducted for the city, but nothing that disqualified the Long Island firm.

Benepe said the Parks Department considered defaulting the contractor, but decided against it because doing so would probably result in litigation, and more delays as the job was bid out again and a new company hired.

During the five years since construction began, Pile Foundation several times ran afoul of state laws intended to clean up New York’s waterways, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Inspectors have cited the contractor for dumping dirt from the construction project into the East River, or failing to take steps to prevent such erosion from happening.

The DEC provided WNYC with a video that inspectors took that shows a dilapidated barge floating in the East River, with a large piece of Styrofoam about to fall off. Another video shows a back hoe dumping potentially contaminated debris into the East River.

“This is an unusual situation,” a DEC official, Regina Seetahal, said in an e-mail. “The number of violations, their duration, and the level of gross negligence and misconduct encountered during this construction project are rather unusual and not comparable to most other projects.”

Anthony Rivara, the company’s president, wouldn’t return phone calls. In 2007 and again in 2009, he waived his right to dispute DEC’s allegations and agreed to pay a total of $350,000 in fines.

The DEC has also cited Rivara for sinking barges that he had been using at other construction sites in New York waterways — though none of those events took place before the bids for East River Park were opened.

Schuerman notes: “Neither the violations, nor the park’s delays, have gotten much attention.”

Benepe told WNYC the project should be finished by next July.