East River Esplanade Plan Shrinks, as City Agency Refuses to Move Water Main

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East River Esplanade; rendering from 2013.
East River Esplanade; rendering from 2013.

The refusal by a city agency to pay to move a water main along South Street is jeopardizing part of the East River Esplanade Project.

The revitalization of the waterfront on the East Side has been plagued for many years by delays. At a meeting of the parks committee of Community Board 3 earlier this month, officials with the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) delivered the latest unwelcome news.

The new complications cover an area extending from Catherine Street to Pike Slip. In this area, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is installing a new water main. In the past, EDC representatives have told the community board that DEP agreed to pay the costs of moving that water main. But the other night, the EDC team said their sister agency has changed course. Not only will they not pick up the tab, but as it was spelled out in a Power Point presentation, “DEP budgetary restrictions have prevented building on and within 30 feet of the water main.”

Slide from EDC presentation.
Slide from EDC presentation.

For the moment, the Economic Development Corp. plans to work around the DEP restrictions, completing other parts of the esplanade project. The EDC reps, including Lynne Guey of the community and governmental relations unit, said they’re hopeful DEP will change its mind again. There was constant communication between the agencies on this issue for more than two years, she said.

In a followup conversation with the Economic Development Corp., we learned that a turf field, an area for skateboarders and some seating will all need to be eliminated as a result of DEP’s decision. Moving the water main out into the street, which is what the EDC requested, would cost around $11 million, a spokesperson said.

2013 EDC presentation showed turf field that is now in jeopardy.
2013 EDC presentation showed turf field that is now in jeopardy.

We also sent written questions to the Department of Environmental Protection, asking for details about the water main project and an explanation for the decision to withhold funding. A DEP spokesperson responded without answering our questions, saying only that discussions with the EDC are ongoing in an effort to find a way forward.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron addressed the issue during an unveiling of public art on a different section of the East River greenway last week. He has been a big proponent of beautifying the waterfront and, more importantly, of completing resiliency measures as quickly as possible. “Our job,” he said, “is to hold all of the agencies accountable for coordinating the complicated factors (involved in construction) in ways that don’t extend our risk (to flooding) or make us lose promised open space.”

“The idea that anyone would say, ‘No, something’s not going to happen,’ at this point in the game is unacceptable and premature.”

Trever Holland, a tenant leader in the Two Bridges area, said he’s very disappointed in the continuing delays. Holland, also chair of CB3’s parks committee, added that he’s concerned about city agencies making changes in the esplanade plan without consulting the community board. “There also needs to be an accounting of the new budget” for the project, he said. If design elements are being removed, the esplanade is obviously costing less, said Holland. “We should know where those surplus funds are going.”

Community Board 3 has invited DEP to appear at an upcoming meeting to discuss the esplanade water main. So far there has been no response.