NYC Must Stop Plans to Raze East River Park to Build a Levee, new brief argues
COURT DATE! Judge set argument for August 20 at 10am. It will be on Skype. Details to follow. Please tell everyone.
Without state oversight, New York City could demolish East River Park and build a levee but would not be obliged to return the entire 1.2 mile riverfront to parkland. The city could also exceed its five-year construction timeline.
Those are two of the reasons why state oversight is needed for the massive $1.45 billion flood control project, says a brief filed July 20. The document is a response to the city’s argument that state approval is not needed.
The lawsuit, East River Park Action et al v City of New York, originally filed in February, asks to halt the East Side Coastal Resiliency project that is scheduled to begin this fall. It also asks to declare the City Council vote last November approving the project “null and void.”
Attorney Arthur Schwartz with the nonprofit Advocates for Justice argues in yesterday’s 42-page brief that the city is required to seek Alienation from the state. Alienation is the use of parkland for non-park purposes, even for brief periods.
Schwartz notes that “Closing the East River Park, whether completely or in phases, will disproportionately affect the health and well-being and recreational opportunities of low-income New Yorkers who live in the neighborhood around the Park.”
Felling a thousand trees and adding eight feet of fill–nearly a million tons–alongside a jam-packed urban neighborhood in Manhattan will inevitably generate construction dust. That is particularly troublesome in the time of Covid-19 when added pollution leads to higher death rates.
Alienation can ensure that the city sticks to its announced timeline, says Schwartz. “Under this plan, the entire East River Park is anticipated to be closed for some portion of the next 5 years while construction takes place. But, without alienation legislation, this ‘pie in the sky’ 5-year estimate (or any other estimate given by the city) is unenforceable.”
Another dire possibility is that the park would not be entirely returned to the low-and-middle income Lower East Side and East Village neighborhood. The brief cites a letter from Federal, state and local legislators. They pointed out in Dec. 2018, “If the City were to go forward with the new plan, and alienation is not required, how would the City be held accountable to ensure that 100% of the parkland and open space is returned to the public?”
The alienation lawsuit was brought by 90 organizations and individuals. “We would like to see the city stop and revisit a flood control plan it developed with the community that would not completely destroy East River Park,” says East River Park ACTION founder Pat Arnow. “At the very least, the city should seek this alienation so that we will have oversight for this massive project.”
The city has two weeks to respond.
East River Park Action et al v. City of New York
State Supreme Court
Reply Memorandum of Law
Index No. 151491/2020
Photo: East River Park is the only respite for fresh air and social distancing in the crowded Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.
Background on Alienation and the lawsuit
When the city closes parkland for any length of time or uses it for a non-park purpose, the state must authorize the change. It is called “Alienation.” It provides much-needed oversight, transparency, and requirements for alternate park spaces (called mitigation).
The city did not ask the state for Alienation for the flood control plan for East River Park. They simply plan to start bulldozing, and will have no oversight. By suing, we are doing what the city should have done.
Our lawsuit is being handled pro bono (no fee) by Advocates for Justice, a nonprofit firm. We have 90 plaintiffs, mostly people from the neighborhood, and some 13 organizations.
Here is our post with information about the lawsuit and a video of the press conference announcing it: Suing.
Here is the New York State Supreme Court filing with affidavits many of us wrote to support the lawsuit: East River Park Action et al v. City of New York.
To read more news stories about the lawsuit and other articles about East River Park, see our East River Park News page.
Why We Filed a Lawsuit
The City is proceeding with the plan to demolish East River Park starting in the autumn of 2020. During construction of the East Side Coastal Resiliency flood control plan, we will lose access to most of the park for a minimum of five years. As the park is demolished and rebuilt eight feet higher, every tree, every plant, the 1.2 mile promenade, the new $3.5 million running track and ball fields will be bulldozed. We need flood control, but the plan needs revisions and oversight. We also need interim protection.
The lawsuit and our continued opposition is important. Without our pressure, the city is likely to continue this irresponsible plan without oversight or transparency.
More Reasons for Alienation
Among the problems that state alienation can improve or change:
The plan calls for the removal of all living things in East River Park. The destruction of 1,000 mature trees will compromise our air quality and therefore our health. The city’s plans for street and park tree replacement is inadequate.
The city may add or improve bike lanes to local streets, but it does not plan any alternate greenways to substitute for our 1.2 mile promenade. There will be no place for runners, walkers, strollers, dog walkers, people with disabilities, children, and the elderly.
Under current plan, along the FDR by the Seal Park there will be a large, permanent parking lot and shed for maintenance vehicles instead of green space.
Pier 42, currently a slab of concrete and weeds just south of East River Park, is supposed to be fast-tracked to become a new park, yet, the city has just announced its plans to park garbage trucks there.
For more about what Alienation is, check out our post about it, “Alienated.”