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East Side flood protection plan advances in the City Council

The vote came on the heels of a city announcement to mollify critics

East River Park
Nathan Kensinger

A plan to reconstruct a stretch of Manhattan’s east side with flood protections cleared its first hurdle in the City Council Monday, following an announcement by the de Blasio administration to mollify critics.

The $1.45 billion proposal to raze and rebuild East River Park at least eight feet higher to stave off storm surge and sea level rise passed the Council subcommittee on landmarks, public siting and dispositions 4-1. The vote came on the heels of Mayor Bill de Blasio backing the creation of a community advisory group for the East Side Costal Resiliency (ESCR) project, and a handful of other concessions.

The trio of Council members who represent the affected area—Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin—supported the proposal in a joint statement, and declared that the mayor’s Monday announcement “helps restore confidence that this is the best plan to move forward with for protecting our communities as quickly as possible from the next Hurricane Sandy.”

“While community engagement in this process has not always been sufficient, we also appreciate the City’s acknowledgment of its own failures and its recommitment to transparency and the community,” the three pols said, referencing the city’s pledge for greater transparency after officials suddenly revised 70 percent of a previous version despite years of community engagement with locals to fine tune the proposal.

On Monday, the de Blasio administration published a technical hydraulics study on the project’s design, which advocates have long-prodded the city to release. The city also said the Office of Emergency Management, the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, and the Department of Design and Construction will continue to study whether interim flood protections are feasible during construction—the project’s resiliency measures will not be online until 2023 with full project completion not expected until 2025. Additionally, city officials will seek Envision Platinum Certification to ensure the project is sustainable, says the city.

But many locals remain skeptical of the plan, and ahead of Monday’s vote the East River Park ACTION and East River Alliance rallied on the steps of City Hall against the plan. Some 50 protestors blasted the proposed destruction of East River Park, chanting “Vote no” while waving homemade signs scrawled with, “Save East River Park” and “Unhealthy for the unhealthy.” Opponents called on the city to go back to the drawing board and develop a plan that works with the local ecology to reduce flood risk.

“We are living in a system that is fighting against nature,” said Kendra Krueger, a long-time Lower East Sider who is an engineer and a community organizer. “Let us a see this as an opportunity and we ask: let us find a better more resilient solution.”

Detractors say they delivered petitions with some 8,500 signatures against the plan to the mayor’s office Monday.

The lone Council member who vote against the ESCR proposal, Brooklyn Councilmember Inez Barron, said October 3rd’s subcommittee hearing on the plan “exposed what was left undone, unsaid, unexplored, and unanswered” by the city. Monday’s concessions did little to sway the Councilmember.

“I do not think that [the city’s concessions are] substantive enough as they have been outlined here for me to support this program moving forward,” Barron said during the vote.

The plan will advance to the Council’s land use committee on November 12. If the proposal makes it through that committee, it will move on to the full Council for a final vote. Mayor de Blasio reinforced his support for the effort in a Monday statement.

“The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project will protect New Yorkers for years to come,” said de Blasio. “And at every step of the way, we will continue to ensure the community is kept informed of progress and that their voice is heard.”