Hurricane Sandy Didn’t Kill East River Park.
New York City Is.
Some 700 out of the 1,000 trees in East River Park have been cut down. Playing fields have been razed. Amphitheater razed.
We Need a Green Plan, Not an Environmental Disaster
New York City is demolishing our big, beloved park on the unwealthy side of the Lower East Side and East Village. Everything must go–shady lawns, picnic areas, ballfields, running track, amphitheater, the compost yard, historic buildings, and 1,000 trees, most 82 years old and healthy.
The city is going ahead with the massively destructive ESCR–East Side Coastal Resiliency project–even though there were alternatives that could have preserved much of our park and provided flood control.
Under the plan, the city will build a 1.2 mile wall along the water and cover the razed park with eight feet of fill. Eventually a new park will be built on top of this levee.
The loss of all trees–which help us breathe and cleans and cools our neighborhood air–and the dust from dumping a million tons of fill is hazardous for our already crowded Lower East Side with many people of color, elderly and low-income residents.
True Resiliency is Possible
Plans can be revised to provide a greener parkland in the eventual new park atop the levee. The current plans call for too much pavement, artificial turf and 1,800 saplings that will take years to create the shade and fresh air we had and which we desperately need. Some 40 percent of the park with hundreds of trees is still extant. Planners should look into the possibility of preserving any part of that.
There are now some alternate spaces in the neighborhood provided as mitigation for loss of parkland. These are largely made of artificial turf and pavement with little shade. We need greening of those spaces and aggressive street tree planting and maintenance. We also need oversight of the construction to preserve air and water quality. See our ACTIONS NOW! page for things you can do.
A little history–There were better plans that would have preserved our park and given us flood protection.
After Hurricane Sandy raged through New York in 2012, Lower East Side/East Village residents and organizations worked for four years with officials to plan flood control. Flood walls and berms (long hills) would be built along the FDR Drive for storm surge protection. The park itself could be flooded during a hurricane. It would help absorb the overflowing waters and quickly recover (as it did during Sandy). It would cost about $770 million.
The plan was not perfect–and the city kept revising it until it became a bloated mess. However, there were the bones of excellent, attractive, community-responsive flood control plans.
By late 2018, the city suddenly decided the whole park should be erased to build a giant levee with a new park on top. They based their decision on a report they later insisted did not exist. Our Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request and appeals shook the report loose, but it was heavily redacted. The city grudgingly unredacted part of it, revealing many alternatives to the current plan in the Value Engineering Study.
Now, they are carrying out the most destructive, least-community-friendly option: they closed nearly 60 percent of the park in early December 2021 and began demolishing it. They promise to reopen the area when it’s done, then close the rest of the park for demolition and levee building. It is scheduled to take five years (but when has NYC ever done anything on schedule?). Costs are exceeding the original $1.45 billion budget.
In addition to the 24/7 emissions from the FDR Drive, Williamsburg Bridge and Con Ed, we face heavy construction and worsened air quality from ESCR. There is no effective oversight and remediation. We need to protect our community’s health. See our Breathe section.
Our LES Breathe campaign has a people’s air quality monitoring system with real-time readings. We are sharing open data that shows we must have measures to improve our air. See real-time air quality monitor readings in our neighborhood on our Air Quality page.
Community members say that the current plan is an environmental injustice. Some 16,000 people including 2,000 from NYCHA Speaks have signed various petitions against the plan. Hundreds of people have testified, marched, and protested, emailed, called, and flooded social media.
Join us as we continue to try to mitigate the environmental injustice and disaster of the destruction of East River Park.
Links to the earlier plans. This is the gory details page: History and Resources
Visit our ACTION page to see what you can do right now.
What should have been done for flood control in East River Park?
What’s wrong with the plan: A Dozen Reasons Why. This we published in Oct. 2019. The reasons still hold.
East River Park and the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan in the news from 2018 to now. East River Park News
See articles on Resilency, Mental and Physical Health Effects, and more.
Here are some of the passionate and well-informed testimonies opponents of the plan gave at the City Council Oct. 3: A Mountain of Testimony Against a Pile of Landfill
And here’s more testimony from earlier hearings. Hello? Hello? NYC Can You Hear Me?
East River Park ACTION leads 90 plaintiffs who took legal action over the destruction of environment and threats to health of residents. We filed a lawsuit in Feb. 2020. The judge ruled against us in August 2020. Our appeal was heard in Oct. 2021 and was dismissed. We appealed that decision to the highest court in the state, The Court of Appeals and are awaiting a decision. See our Lawsuit page. And we are finding other legal avenues that will result in a better plan.
East River Park ACTION is a nonprofit 501(c)3 charity. Donations are tax deductible.