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(Opinion) Don’t Kill East River Park for a Bad Flood Plan

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Photo by Pat Arnow
Photo by Pat Arnow

The following op/ed was written by Lower East Side resident and East River Park ACTION founder Pat Arnow. The Lo-Down accepts op/ed submissions relevant to the Lower East Side community. Opinion pieces do not reflect the editorial position of The Lo-Down, but only the viewpoints of each individual author. To submit an editorial/letter to the editor, use the following email: info@thelodownny.com

East River Park survived Hurricane Sandy. It won’t survive New York City’s flood control plan—unless we stop it. We need flood protection, but there is a better way. 

The Plan

The East Side Coastal Resiliency project will bulldoze every bit of the park including 1,000 trees, sports fields, natural spaces and  picnic areas.

The plan will add eight feet of landfill and rebuild the park 8-10 feet higher. 

It is scheduled to take five years, though it is likely to take many more years, considering construction times in New York. (Remember the 10 years our East River Park promenade was closed? Have you noticed the bathroom in Luther Gulick Park on Delancey has been under construction for four years?) 

Health Risks

The dust from digging up contaminated soil and adding layer after layer of landfill will clog our lungs. Our Lower East Side/ East Village neighborhood already suffers high rates of asthma and 9/11 respiratory troubles. The 1,000 trees that help us breathe will be gone. We need picnic areas, ball fields, greenery and river for our mental and physical health. 

Photo by Pat Arnow
Photo by Pat Arnow

Neighborhood Not Respected

The city pushed such a big, unhealthy, destructive project on a low and middle income neighborhood. Rich areas are treated differently. Brooklyn Heights raised $100,000 and quickly squashed a plan to replace their promenade with a highway. 

No Protection During Construction

During years of construction, we will have no flood protection. We need interim flood protection and a better long-term flood control plan. 

Troubling Questions, Vague Promises

There are deeply troubling unanswered questions as this plan races toward passage in the City Council Nov. 14. The city has promised to look into interim protection and timelines that have not been worked out. For instance, there is still no report on how long it will take the eight feet of fill to settle before a new park can be built or how to deal with contaminated soil that will be dug up when ConEd works with their underground lines. We have no written guarantees that the city will deal with these or any other problems with the plan. 

Our Council Members Carlina Rivera, Margaret Chin and Keith Powers are supporting the plan. Since the park is in their districts, the City Council will not defy them. If the plan passes next week, our elected officials will have no power to gain answers or concessions from the city. The bulldozers will roll all over us next year. 

A Better Plan

We can ask our Council Members to Vote No. The city can adapt an earlier community-approved design that would take the same five years and give the same flood protection. The plan preserved most of our park so that it could absorb and recover from storm surges. It included a series of flood walls, berms (long hills) and deployables (flip up flood gates) along the park side of the FDR. 

A better plan could be developed to combat climate change by expanding the park (decking) over the FDR and decreasing greenhouse emissions by turning the FDR Drive into a mass transit corridor. 

What to do

I founded a grassroots neighborhood group, East River Park ACTION, to oppose the plan and advocate for a better, less destructive plan—and for interim protection. 

We have strong opposition to the plan in the neighborhood. Hundreds have been testifying at hearings, showing up at rallies, and calling our City Council members. Lat week, together with other groups, we turned in petitions from 9,000 people who oppose the plan. We have a letter opposing the plan with signatures from 34 neighborhood and city-wide groups. 

Voice your opinion before it’s too late. Call and write to your City Council Members. Tell them we want a better plan. 

The Land Use Committee is scheduled to vote on the plan Nov. 12 at 10:00 a.m. The full City Council will vote on the plan Nov. 14 at their meeting that begins at 1:30. The public is invited. Join us there at 1:00 for a press conference and attend the meeting.

Pat Arnow

East River Park ACTION


Facebook East River Park Action




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