City Agency Relents: Full East River Esplanade Project Moves Forward

East River Esplanade; rendering from 2013.

East River Esplanade; rendering from 2013.

The city bureaucracy works in mysterious ways.

Back in October, we reported that an edict from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had jeopardized a section of the East River Esplanade from Catherine Slip to Pike Slip. The agency planned to build a new water main and would not allow park construction to take place within 30 feet of the piping. The Economic Development Corp. (EDC), which is overseeing the esplanade project, said the decision was forcing it to scrap plans for a turf field.

Now DEP has had a change of heart. The news was delivered last night at a meeting of Community Board 3’s Parks Committee. Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, DEP’s director of community affairs, showed up to say his agency has “no objection” to the project going forward as designed. He also explained that plans to replace the water main have been abandoned, at least for now. There’s “no sign of any major problems there,” Abdul-Matin said. “It’s good for at least another 20-30 years.” He noted that the community board had been “diligent and persistent” in encouraging the agencies to work out their differences.

EDC officials said they will be eliminating some terraced seating along this stretch of the waterfront, a few tables and chairs and a skateboard area. The procurement process for this particular phase of the massive waterfront rehabilitation initiative will now begin, with the start of construction expected in the summer. Work is likely to take about one year.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron has been helping to resolve the impasse. Here’s the statement he provided to us:

When I heard the turf field was at risk, I worked with the community, DEP and EDC to identify a solution that ensured this much-needed, active recreation space on the Lower East Side gets built as committed. It’s great news that the turf field and other amenities in the East River Esplanade project will happen as promised. I’ll continue to push for this project to be completed quickly. Thanks to Community Board 3, DEP, and EDC for working towards the best possible build out of the East River Esplanade.

This next phase of construction includes completion of an eco-park at Pier 35, a part of the East River greenway that has been delayed for years. Hunter-Roberts Construction was hired earlier this year as the general contractor tasked with getting the project back on track.

EDC officials brief community board members last night.

EDC officials brief community board members last night.

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

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.

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