Dear City Council Members,
As a resident of Grand Street, I have both a policy-driven and an emotional response to the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan. While I realize than any flood mitigation plan would likely cause some temporary inconvenience and displeasure to Lower East Siders, I’m concerned that the proposed ESCR plan, in its current form, is not the best solution. I urge you not to approve it. The original plan including berms—or a similar plan incorporating them—is a much better option that would be acceptable to Lower East Side residents.
Although the City has touted the plan as both equitable and efficient, I see it as being unacceptable when viewed through the lens of these criteria:
- Health Risks: The landfill that will be used to raise the floodplain will be comprised of unknown materials, generating huge quantities of dust of possibly hazardous components, which will affect NYCHA residents—an already vulnerable demographic— first and foremost. Additionally, the decline in air quality will also likely affect residents of the Grand Street area, such as in the East River and Hillman co-ops.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) acknowledges that there are hazardous materials in the soil, and that the project would increase exposure to them without “proper controls.” It’s naive to believe that on a 75+ acre stretch of land, all toxic materials below the surface will be isolated and removed, and the this could happen within a 3-and-a-half year time frame, with the project completion happening within that same schedule.
To exemplify these doubts, the Statement suggests that “Visual, olfactory, and instrument-based soil screening would be performed under the supervision of a Qualified Environmental Professional during construction that involves subsurface disturbance.” (6.6-5 ) In other words, is someone is going to smell and have a look at thousands of tons of soil to determine its safety?This does not instill confidence. (Has this ever been done successfully before in a such timeframe? Were there no ill effects on local residents?)
Further stoking concerns about the choice of this plan, the impact statement concedes that the other alternatives would have “substantially less volume and areal extent of soil disturbance and excavation” and therefore much less toxic exposure. So why is the City not opting for the original plan?
- Prioritization of Cars: The public has been made aware that part of the reason the original ESCR proposal was scrapped was because this plan is less disruptive to traffic on the FDR. I can’t state strongly enough the irony of prioritizing the very factor that has in large part created the need for climate mitigation—fossil-fuel burning vehicles. While the City’s 80×50 plan states a commitment to reducing emissions by 80% by the year 2050, the ESCR plan does absolutely nothing to address, or even acknowledge, the underlying problem, and instead creates a slew of other issues for neighborhood stakeholders.
The Statement purports that, “Since the flood protection under this [the proposed plan] is primarily along the existing esplanade of East River Park, there would be less construction disruption and delay along the FDR Drive…” This statement illustrates prioritizing car culture over people.
- Parkland Alienation: The spirit of this regulation requires replacement of parkland that is taken away with “equal” land, but the solutions proposed in the ESCR plan are at best insufficient, and at most realistic, laughable. Painting surfaces and supplying a handful of outdoor sports field lighting solutions will not provide sufficient sport field space for all the kids who live or attend school on the Lower East Side, in the East Village, or around Stuyvesant Cove, nor will it compensate for space to play, dream, exercise, ride bikes or take in nature. Adults will deprived of the same things.
Childhood is short. High school students like my son, a soccer player, (and possibly even young children) who depend on the space provided by East River Park, will not be children by the time the project is completed. There is no local alternative to replace this space.
*It is absolutely essential that the work be done in stages and that large parts of the park always remain open.
In short, for a price tag of over $2 billion, this project will likely generate health issues; reduce the quality of life in the area for a decade or more; curtail safe and efficient transportation options (protected biking and convenient access to the ferry at Corlears Hook, which will be negated for anyone on or above Grand Street, such a myself, a City employee who bikes or takes the ferry to Pier 11 everyday) and eradicate the very oasis of open-space “nature” that the project purports to enhance.
People love East River Park and are so upset by its possible destruction because it’s the one place on the Lower East Side where we can actually be in a space that feels unconstricted and wild. To shrug off the destruction of hundreds of old, beautiful, shade-providing trees is to not understand human nature and this constituency. The trees are not a nicety; they are the park. The shadeless, manmade spaces of the proposed plan cannot replace what we have now.
I am in agreement, as I believe most Lower East Siders are, that we urgently need a flood mitigation plan. We will certainly need interim flood protection. It’s understood that not everyone will love every detail of any plan, but as a community, we want to ensure that we are getting the best, most equitable and quality-of-life-preserving option.
What I wish I could attach in this email is the the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves of the trees at East River Park, and the comforting hum of cicadas at dusk, as the river rolls by. “Nature” is not just an abstraction where this park is concerned—this is a place where Lower East Siders can actually be immersed in nature, which has immense benefits for me and my family (and I’m sure tens of thousands of other residents) in both body, mind and spirit. To think of the biosphere that would be demolished is painful, and imagining a tree-less East River Park honestly makes me think about leaving New York City in two years when my son goes to college.This park feels like my home.
The bottom line of my complaint is this: It seems like the trees and the park itself, along with the possible health of Lower East Siders in the surrounding areas, are going to be sacrificed in favor of keeping car traffic rolling along on the FDR. This is just morally wrong.
Thank you very much for taking this into consideration before you cast your vote. I appreciate your time.