Residents Voice Hyperlocal Concerns About East River Levee Plan
Local residents this week are getting one last look at preliminary designs for a flood protection system along the East River before the final concept is unveiled in December. They came to a public meeting at Grand Street Settlement last night to weigh in on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, which will create a network of berms, floodwalls and deployable barriers from 23rd Street to Montgomery Street.
The initiative is being overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. This initial phase of the project was launched after the federal government awarded $335 million to protect the Lower East Side from future superstorms. Last night, city officials reiterated a point they have made before — that the first round of funding will not be sufficient to pay for their plan, which is meant to buffer low-lying neighborhoods from storm surge and also to create better local access to the East River.
Some residents in attendance last night expressed concern about the plan for a stretch just below the East River Bandshell to Montgomery Street, including the area alongside Pier 42, which will one day become a new eight-acre park. While designs for East River Park to the north boasted new recreational areas with rolling hills and terraces, blueprints for the Pier 42 zone showed only a single black line. Officials described a green wall designed to “keep the water from coming into the neighborhood.” The Vladeck public housing development and Gouverneur Gardens, a middle income co-op, are adjacent to this area.
Residents from those buildings said they feared the design would limit their views and access to the river. Even before hearing these comments, officials noted they’re planning to meet with Gouverneur Gardens residents to discuss the design difficulties in the area. These issues include the presence of Con Edison lines as well as a narrow space between the river and the FDR Drive ramp.
Following last night’s meeting, we contacted the mayor’s office for more detail. A spokesperson told The Lo-Down that plans calls for a bikeway with a raised path on the park side of Pier 42, offering residents a view of the activity inside the park. In front of Gouverneur Gardens, the green wall would begin at 5 feet above existing grade and taper down to three feet at Montgomery Street, and disappear entirely as it continues to the west as the floodplain comes to an end. The spokesperson emphasized that the overriding goal is to integrate flood protection with the neighborhood and that no one is talking about walling off the community from the river.
Also last night, we contacted the office of State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who has led the charge for development of a park at Pier 42. In a statement, he noted that the flood protection plan is still in its preliminary stages. But “to be clear,” he added, “there is no universe in which walling off Pier 42 from the community that surrounds it is the best resiliency plan for the community. This neighborhood of public and subsidized housing deserves strong resiliency protection, along with access to world class waterfront open space, just like other communities are getting.” Squadron added that he’s optimistic about a collaboration with city officials and residents to come up with a resiliency plan everyone supports.
Another area that has generated a lot of debate is centered around Delancey Street, where designers envision creating an expansive crossing a bit south of the Williamsburg Bridge meant to accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists. In addition to a Delancey Street entrance, there could potentially be a ramp on Grand Street. Residents of the East River Co-op have mixed feelings about this part of the project.
Last night, designers acknowledged that some people are enthusiastic about another route into East River Park, while others think it could create too much congestion and impede emergency vehicles. They said the city would continue to work with residents to reach a consensus about the best approach. In other words, they’re putting off a decision for now.
The $335 million already allocated from the federal government will be devoted to the first phase of the resiliency project. The city is now competing with applicants from across the country for another $1 billion that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is set to award. New York is asking for $500 million for flood protection below Montgomery Street.
The spokesperson from the mayor’s office said a final cost estimate for the first phase of the project hasn’t been determined as of yet. The money now on the table would provide “baseline” flood protection but not pay for the more elaborate plan to create new recreational areas along the East River. Designers are still working through regulatory and technical issues before settling on a final number.
Next up, the city will begin to prepare an environmental impact study and begin the public land use process. A public meeting for the Environmental Impact Statement will be scheduled in November.
If you would like to review the full presentation from last night, see below. The city has also set up a project website. You can find it here.