More Delays For East River Flood Barrier, as Federal Deadlines Loom

Rendering shows proposed flood wall on FDR Drive at 10th Street.

Rendering shows proposed flood wall on FDR Drive at 10th Street.

There are more complications in the $760 million plan for a flood barrier along the East River. Key meetings during the summer have been delayed, pushing back the start of the city’s mandatory land use process for the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.

The plan for a 2.4 mile section of the waterfront above Montgomery Street envisions a series of berms and flood walls to protect the Lower East Side from future storms on the scale of Hurricane Sandy. The city is at least a year-and-a-half behind schedule. In community board meetings held earlier in the spring, city officials made it clear they were racing to meet federal spending deadlines. In spite of local objections, they were pushing to kick off the official environmental review and ULURP (Uniform Land Use Procedure) during the summer months.

But in the past week, those summer meetings were canceled. Michael Shaikh, deputy director of external affairs in the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency, told The Lo-Down this week that the new delays are due to, “unexpected complications with the design of the flood wall.” He said designers needed the summer to resolve the issues. Asked to elaborate, Shaikh simply said the complications had to do with the flood wall’s impact on FDR Drive.

The city anticipates rescheduling the meetings for the fall. Four years ago, the city received $335 million in funding for East River storm protection from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. The money must be spent by September of 2022. Planners have hoped to break ground by the spring of next year. But that can’t happen until ULURP is completed. Hearings by the community board, borough president and City Planning Commission are all required before the City Council gives its approval. Asked about the latest delay, Shaikh said, “We are on track to meet our federal funding deadlines.”

Community Board 3 complained about the prospect of summer meetings (the board doesn’t normally meet in July and August). In March, CB3 raised concerns about the flood barrier, which includes what some fear will be a forbidding eight-foot wall along the FDR. A community planning process several years ago led to a vision for the waterfront that would provide flood protection, but also improve access to East River Park and create new recreational areas along the water.