Grand Street Dems Resolves to Suspend ESCR Pending Independent Review

Adopted at regular meeting 1/27/21.

In a reply to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, NYC’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) stated that the City’s Value Engineering Study on the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) plan could not be sent because:

“DDC’s search of agency records revealed no responsive documents for [the FOIL] request.”

This means that the present massive $1.45 billion plan lacks the main justification for the change that doubled the cost and destruction.

According to a “Fact Sheet” from de Blasio’s office on Sept. 28, 2018, “The adoption of the new design follows a value engineering study performed earlier this year and a review of the project by a panel of experts with experience from around the nation.”

When an independent analyst from the Dutch firm, Deltares, hired by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, reviewed the present ESCR plan (Alternative 4) in 2019, he also requested this Value Engineering Report: “The ‘value engineering report’ leads to the conclusion that Alternative 4 can be completed faster and with a greater degree of certainty,” he wrote. However, he never saw the document. “This value engineering report is not publicly available,” he noted.

The Value Engineering Report was used by the City as justification for approving a plan that would:

  • completely raze the 46 acre East River Park;
  • kill approximately 1000 mature trees and all other vegetation in the 82-year-old park;
  • add a million tons of landfill over 1.2 miles of waterfront;
  • double the initial cost of the project plan; and
  • postpone even temporary flood protection for years.

If there is no Value Engineering Report, then there is no justification for the approved plan.

There has been a sustained outcry from community members and over 14,000 signers of petitions opposing the plan, including 2,000 NYCHA residents, who will be disproportionately affected. Advocates call for flood control that will not completely destroy the park as well as interim flood protection and robust alternate park spaces during the years of construction.

Due to this latest news, we demand the city suspend the ESCR project until it can be reviewed in full, including all documents used to support the conclusions in the City’s final environmental impact statement, by a panel of independent experts.

This position should be communicated to the Mayor and all City, State, and Federal elected officials who represent Grand Street Democrats.

City Council approves ESCRP — here’s Carlina Rivera’s statement

On Thursday, the City Council approved the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project unanimously; typically Council Members defer on Land Use bills to the representatives from the affected communities, which in this case meant Carlina Rivera, Margaret Chin, and Keith Powers.

Below is the email that Rivera sent out on Thursday, November 14:

Dear Neighbors,

For the last seven years, I have watched our community’s slow and painful recovery from the physical and emotional damage Superstorm Sandy wreaked on all of us. We are lucky that we haven’t seen a storm as bad as Sandy since then, but our good fortune has allowed many of us to forget just how vulnerable our coastal communities are to catastrophic destruction. But we know that as climate change accelerates we will face more intense storms, flooding, and destruction.

Today we voted to approve the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR) that will not only provide real protections, but also address decades of environmental inaction from our government and provide a park that will be enjoyed by future generations, not just the current one.

Over a year ago, I moved forward with negotiations thinking of the many injustices our community has faced, from the FDR Drive built by Robert Moses with no concept of its environmental impacts, the lead lined apartments in our NYCHA campuses that have still not been repaired, and the mold in so many of our buildings that was exacerbated after the waters of Hurricane Sandy flooded our homes.

That is why the agreement we reached is so important for our communities. It not only protects us for the next 100 years, but phases in construction to keep our open space accessible while creating a world-class park with new ball fields, tennis courts, pedestrian bridges that better accommodate our neighbors with disabilities, and a revitalized amphitheater that is so important to our cultural celebrations.

With the approval of this plan we are also bringing a long list of community improvements to 17 other local park spaces and six NYCHA campuses, creating new partnerships with community gardens, extending hours at school recreation sites, and building new barbecue areas. We’re voting to expand pedestrian and bike-focused infrastructure, with commitments for new protected bike lanes in Alphabet City and the expansion of closed-street programming that includes pocket parks. And we’re planning for the future with both a new disaster-preparedness campaign for our front-line residents and a commitment to study the future of the FDR in a world that must include reduced vehicle use and emissions.

The breadth of these investments can be seen in the many groups that have announced their support, including many who have previously expressed skepticism. We’re not just talking about elected officials, NYCHA residents, Little League Directors, or park tenants. We’re talking policy experts who were behind the original push for resiliency work in New York City, including Rebuild by Design and Regional Plan Association.

You can view a full list of both commitments secured and community supporters on my website by clicking here.

But as this project spanning three Council districts moves forward, it’s clear that the community’s trust with the City surrounding this project must continue to be repaired. I certainly understand the mistrust after decades of neglect certain neighborhoods have experienced at the hands of all levels of government.

The City, at my urging, is re-visiting the interim flood protection measures (IFPMs) they said “were not feasible” and will install temporary protections. And all analyses will be provided to the community on these measures, just as we have demanded throughout this process in order to make better informed choices.

And the City will need to respect the voices of all community members and experts who will comprise the ESCR Community Advisory Group we secured funding for. Whether they’re reporting on the city’s air quality monitoring, soil testing, construction noise mitigation, or how to incorporate new ideas and feedback into the project’s design, everyone’s voices matter and should be heard in the way I have heard them in my countless meetings with local groups and park stewards. 

We have to act fast to protect the East Side. And ESCR will not just ensure that protection, but also provide a historic investment that will help our communities reverse decades of environmental injustice. Regardless of how little or greatly involved you were in this process, I hope you will all continue to speak up about ESCR and work to make this project successful for our community and a model for the rest of our City’s resiliency work to come.


Carlina Rivera

Letter to Councilmembers Rivera and Chin on ESCRP

Following last week’s vote by GSD members to recommend a “No” vote on the land use application for the East River Park flood protection plan, GSD president sent the following letter to our representatives on City Council, Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin.

on the land use application for the East River Park flood protection plan, GSD president sent the following letter to our representatives on City Council, Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin.

Councilmembers Rivera and Chin,

I wanted to let you know that at last week’s Grand Street Dems meeting, members voted to recommend that you vote “No” on the ULURP application for the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.

The City has resisted too many of the community’s recommendations for changes to the plan, and has left too many questions unanswered about how its preferred alternative was developed, and the adverse effects its plan will have on the environment and the surrounding neighborhoods.

If delay of this project spurs the City to provide immediate flood protection to the East Village and Lower East, all the better — these neighborhoods remain unprepared for a major flood even seven years after Sandy.

We appreciate that you are both well aware of criticisms of the City’s plan and have been engaged this year in negotiations with the City to adapt its plan and get to a place where a “Yes” vote makes sense. Unfortunately, the City has not been cooperative enough, and a vote is coming soon.

Given the current status of the ULURP application for ESCRP, Grand Street Dems recommends that you vote “No.”

Jeremy Sherber

GSD recommends NO vote on ESCRP

With a City Council vote imminent on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project — the plan to add 8-10 feet of land fill to East River Park for flood protection from Montgomery to 23rd Street — Grand Street Dems voted at our fall meeting to recommend that our Council representatives vote “No” on the ULURP application.

At our spring meeting, GSD passed a resolution expressing many reservations about the City’s plan. With most of those reservations unresolved, club members voted to reject the City’s plan and push for a new community-driven design process that could produce a better plan.

How our representatives — Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin — vote may determine how the entire City Council votes, since on most ULURP votes Council members defer to the wishes of the local representative.

Thank you to the organizing done over the past several months by East River Alliance and East River Park Action, including several GSD members, to shed light on the many problems with the City’s plan.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera’s Testimony at Public Hearing on East Side Coastal Resiliency Project

September 17, 2019

Thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, or ESCR.

It’s been nearly seven years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York City, but the effects that storm had on the Lower East Side and the Five Boroughs can still be seen and felt today. Our neighborhood and many others are still recovering and rebuilding from the $19 billion in damage and economic losses that Sandy wrought. And for the families of the 43 New Yorkers who lost their lives, their lives will never truly be fully healed.

As a former community organizer who led the emergency response to Sandy and participated in the Rebuild by Design program, and today as a Council Member who is responsible for the safety of over 160,000 New Yorkers, I understand the seriousness of the crisis we face from climate change and increased sea levels and storm surge. I also understand that $335 million of the budget for this project comes from federal FEMA funding that will by rule expires in 2022. If we allow those funds to disappear, this project will not be able to move forward and we will almost certainly never get that money back from a Trump administration and Congress that has continually stripped funding for state and local infrastructure projects. That is why it is imperative we get this project done quickly and correctly for our community.

Let’s be absolutely clear — this city is not living up to that second point. As Community Board 3 perfectly framed it in their resolution on this item, “the ESCR process since Fall 2018 has frayed trust in government and public agencies because of the drastic change in plan design done without community consultation, despite the needs of the community who look to their government to supply desperately needed protection of their lives and homes.”

It’s why I demanded an apology from the city, and why Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and I hired an independent consultant to review the project’s design. While I look forward to the results of this expert review from the Netherlands-based environmental consulting group Deltares, I will continue to urge the city to finally commit to other key concerns.

The most disappointing of all of these concerns is the lack of details regarding a phased-in approach to construction. When my Council colleagues and I held a hearing on this project in January, Jamie Torres-Springer, the First Deputy Commissioner at the city’s Department of Design and Construction, said we’d have more details on phased-in construction in “a few months.” It’s now September, and the city continues to drag its feet and fails to live up to its promise for honest and open communication.

Residents deserve to know all the details regarding a phased in approach and every effort must be made to ensure that residents can still enjoy sections of the park while construction continues.

In addition, our community’s elected officials called for interim flood protection measures (IPFM) during construction of ESCR. In a letter to our offices, DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo wrote that an “analysis of existing conditions” did not find IPFM to be an effective solution for the ESCR area. While IPFM is not designed to protect neighborhoods from Sandy-level events, they can ensure critical infrastructure remains operational during more frequent, less severe storms. The City must share the details of the analysis mentioned in their letter with our offices and with the independent reviewer to guarantee that there aren’t certain interim protection options that could be used for our community’s most important infrastructure.

Some of our other concerns that must be met include:

  • A study for long-term decking and greening of the FDR Drive.
  • A sufficient detour for users of the East River Greenway.
  • A plan to safely move the Seal Water Park sculptures to a nearby park and have them safely returned after conclusion of the project.
  • A new administrative facility with non-for-profit and community space in the new East River Park.
  • A long-term commitment to a community-approved entity to generate revenue for East River Park.
  • A temporary site for the LES Ecology Center in the surrounding neighborhood and a rebuilt and updated Center in the park when it reopens.
  • Finalizing sufficient, alternative active and passive open space mitigation and enhancements at both Parks and other city agency facilities.
  • Written confirmation that all local youth and school sports organizations will have permits near the project area at specific locations.
  • A commitment to additional barbecue areas where they are safe and do not conflict with other recreation.
  • And a hazardous material mitigation plan that goes beyond typical mitigation efforts to ensure the safety and health of all New Yorkers.

The city has recently informed our office they would make certain commitments, including the planting of 1,000 neighborhood trees and the installation of 40 bioswales beginning this fall, new lighting at six neighborhood sport fields, improvements to turf fields at six sites, new sports coatings and painting at various parks and playgrounds, enhanced barbecue areas, the conversion of the LaGuardia Bathhouse demolition area to a turf field, “spruce-ups” at 16 NYCHA park and play sites, nine new Parks staff for the neighborhood, and a commitment to keep all East River Park staff on the East Side of Manhattan, below 34th Street.

But it is hard to balance these very important measures with the continued silence from the city on the rest of our demands.

If the city wants the votes of Council Member Powers, Chin, and I when this project comes to the City Council, they can not wait until our hearings to start sharing this information. They need to address these concerns now so that our community can assess all factors along with the independent review that is slated to be completed by September 23.

2x marches in 30h: Hit the pavement for climate, for parks

Get your marching shoes on, because you’ve got two chances to hit the pavement in 30 hours: first for climate action, then for East River Park.

Friday, September 20

12:00 pm — Assemble at Foley Square
1:00 pm — March to Battery Park
3:30 – 5:00 pm — Rally at Battery Park

Three days before the UN Climate Summit in NYC, young people and adults will strike all across the world to demand transformative action be taken by governments to address the climate crisis.

16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg headlines the Battery Park rally, with special performances by Jaden and Willow Smith. NYC Public School students have an excused absence if they are picked up by a parent or guardian to attend the rally.

Saturday, September 21

12:00 pm — March from Tompkins Square Park to East River Park
1:30 pm — Rally at the East River Park Labyrinth (just north of Williamsburg Bridge)

The City’s controversial plan to destroy, then rebuild, East River Park for flood protection is nearing a critical phase. An independent report from Dutch environmental group Deltares is due this weekend. Next week the City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the plan. And soon after that, City Council will have a chance to make its final judgement.

Park advocates will take to the street Saturday to demand a better plan that protects the neighborhood from flooding without destroying East River Park.

East River Park project gets independent review

The East River park flood protection plan is getting a much-needed independent review by Hans Gehrels of the Dutch environmental group Deltares.

Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Carlina Rivera announced this week that they had secured funding for the review and that Gehrels’ report would be ready by September 23, when the City Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the City’s plan to raise the park 8-9 feet for flood protection.

This is a huge win for community groups that have been pressing for third party expert review, including Grand Street Democrats. Brewer and Rivera deserve thanks for following through on this request.

With so much skepticism about the City’s plan to destroy the park in order to save it, as well as the optimistic 3-1/2 year timeline the City has attached to its proposal, this independent review should help settle some fundamental questions and guide Rivera and her colleagues on the City Council when the plan reaches them for final approval this fall.

Gehrels is accepting comments from the community and I encourage you to send him your questions and opinions so he has a full understanding of the project’s scope and human impact in the short time he has available:

Borough President requests 60-day delay for vote on East Side Coastal Resiliency plan

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on Monday formally requested a 60-day delay for the City Planning Commission’s [CPC] hearing and final vote to approve the city’s preferred plan for East River Park.

Grand Street Democrats passed a resolution in May requesting a delay in the project so that several important aspects can be revisited. Since then we have been meeting with our elected officials, including Brewer, to encourage them to support community goals to improve the plan. Read GSD’s resolution on the draft Environmental Impact Statement here.

Local Community Boards and elected officials have all largely lined up in support of the city’s preferred plan to protect the East Village and Lower East Side from storm surges and rising sea levels, but with huge caveats, concerns, and still-unanswered questions about the accuracy of the city’s 3.5-year time table, contingencies for immediate flood protection, and more.

Brewer’s request indicates that one priority for the delay is to “consult with independent environmental experts” to make sure that the city’s preferred plan to level the park and pour 8-9 feet of landfill from Montgomery to 23rd Street has the support of experts in the field.

Brewer’s July 8 letter does not automatically trigger the delay she requests, but the City Planning Commission has announced that it’s vote on the City’s plan will come nearly at the end of its allotted 60-day review period in September.

Monday 6/3: East River Park Town Hall

The City has a $1.4 billion plan to bulldoze East River Park and add 8-10 feet of landfill in order to protect the East Village and Lower East Side from rising sea level and storm surges. The park would be closed for at least 3-1/2 years starting in 2020.

  • Existing landscape bulldozed.
  • Amphitheater razed.
  • Entire park raised 8-10 feet with landfill.
  • Playing fields and facilities rebuilt.
  • New pedestrian bridges.

In order for residents to learn about the plan and possible alternatives, and to ask questions directly of the City officials in charge of the project, Grand Street Democrats is hosting a Town Hall next week:

Monday, June 3, 7:00 pm
Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadway

If you have time, there is material available online for you to review before the Town Hall:

Please try to make it. This project will have a huge impact on our neighborhood.

GSD Resolution on East River Park Draft EIS

Adopted at regular meeting 5/16/19.

The East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project is “designed to reduce the risk of floods from coastal storm surges and/or flooding from high-intensity rainfall events.” (The full draft environmental impact statement prepared by the City is available here.)

The City’s $1.4 billion proposal would bulldoze three miles of shoreline parks from Montgomery to 25th St., add landfill, and raise the entire park 8-10 feet as a flood wall against the East River. Construction would start in March 2020 and last 3½ years, by the City’s estimate. Nearly seven years after Superstorm Sandy, the City has no plan for flood protection before the project is complete.

The City’s plan is problematic and needs to be reconsidered.

  1. The environmental impact of the construction project would be devastating, with all existing trees and other plant life destroyed and the loss of significant park components such as the Seal Park and the FDR-era amphitheater.
  2. Construction will close more than 60 acres of parkland along the East River without any plan to replace this vital recreation space during the time of construction.
  3. The City’s track record with large-scale construction projects, in particular those at East River Park, offer no assurances that construction (and loss of park use) will last only 3½ years.
  4. The City has provided no independent engineering review of the necessity of its proposed plan or comparative feasibility of other plans.
  5. After years of delay from the City, residents are now rushed to approve this plan based on an upcoming deadline of initial funding from the Federal government.
  6. Nearly seven years after Sandy, the City still has no plan for immediate flood protection.

We recommend the following:

  1. Commit to any East River Park construction in stages so that parts of the park are kept open and usable for the duration of the project.
  2. Work immediately with our Congressional representatives to extend the deadline to spend Federal funds, and delay the approval of this project, so that the ESCR review process is not rushed.
  3. Convene an independent panel of engineering specialists to review the City’s current plan and proposed alternatives like East River Alliance’s recommendation to extend the park over the FDR Drive. Expert panels have either reviewed or been proposed for large-scale construction projects on the L Train, BQE, and East Side Connector; the Lower East Side deserves the same consideration.
  4. Provide immediate flood protection, even if short-term. There are many types of deployable barriers that could be used to protect the Lower East Side from storm surges while a long-term solution is thoroughly explored.
  5. Commit to other plans to mitigate the impact of loss of park access, including providing transportation to alternate fields, investing in playgrounds and parks in the neighborhoods adjacent to East River Park, and designating alternate protected bike lanes as part of the East River Greenway
  6. Preserve and repurpose existing historical and landscape components of the park.