I asked questions in July. It’s September. We need action.
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
City Council Member Carlina Rivera and I (along with Rivera’s staffer Ivy Rosado) Zoomed on July 21. We went over many vital questions about the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan and its effects. I am publishing my followup letter and the few answers we have received to prod our officials to do more to protect the health and well being of our community.
To: City Council Member Carlina Rivera
CC: City Council Members Margaret Chin and Keith Powers; Department of Design and Construction (DDC); and Community Advisory Group (CAG) facilitators for the ESCR
Date: July 28, 2020
I am following up to clarify some of the questions, and to ask some new ones we didn’t have time to cover. These all have to do with the agreement you, Keith Powers and Margaret Chin made with the city when supporting and ensuring passage of the ESCR in November. We would like to see that the city does fulfill its commitments thoroughly and in good faith.
Here are our points of discussion and follow up questions:
Dust and air quality monitoring
Tony Rivera asked In the Community Advisory Group of the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan for air quality testing in apartments adjacent to the ESCR area prior to construction so that we would have a baseline for future measurements. DDC said it wouldn’t do tests until construction started. You said you would follow up. (*see below for answer and my further questions)
Interim Flood Protection
We discussed the report from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) on Interim Flood Protection that was given to CB3 on July 16. I later spoke with Suzan Rosen at OEM and followed up with written questions. A copy of that email is below**. These questions ask for clarifications and reexaminations of possibilities.
There may be methods of immediate interim protection that have not been evaluated that would help at least some parts of our neighborhood during some storm situations, and it would be a shame to leave those stones unturned (or sandbags unfilled) if a hurricane comes roaring through in the next three years while permanent protection is put in place.
The OEM made it clear that even with interim protection, all people in our flood-prone areas would have to evacuate. I also asked questions of the OEM about those evacuation plans and provisions for social distancing in shelters. We need to have those systems set up in advance so that our already vulnerable neighborhood is not further endangered by lack of planning for disaster in this fickle hurricane season.
Interim Flood and Evacuation Questions: Please see below for questions for OEM on Interim Flood Protection and Evacuation planning.**
In our conversation, we also discussed the underground streams and marshes throughout the East Village and whether they have been incorporated into the ESCR drainage plan. It is unclear if the city has reliable information there.
You pointed me to the answer DDC (Department of Design and Construction overseeing the project) gave in a Tweet, and I looked up the reference. Here’s what it said: “While historically there may have been streams in this area, they have all been filled as the area was developed and these historic wetlands and streams no longer exist…”
One resident pointed out that you could hear the water rushing if you were near the sinkhole that was at 9th and Ave. B for a couple of years (recently repaired). That stream exists. It’s a subterranean river. Community gardeners have also uncovered moving water five to six feet below the surface.
The DDC also noted, “The existing sewer system would also be modified with parallel conveyance and upsized sewers to increase its capacity to convey wet-weather flows to Manhattan Pump Station during a design storm event, thereby reducing the risk of flooding and sewer backups within the drainage protected area.”
It is unclear if those streams are connected to the existing sewer system. Will these waterways be hooked into the parallel conveyance? If not, it could be blocked by the new lines, and the East Village would be much worse off after a big storm.
Subterranean Streams Question: Could it be arranged for the people who know about the streams and live in the neighborhood to speak with those who work on this aspect? These local experts could be either reassured or provide valuable information that could save a lot of flooding trouble.
Community Advisory Group
You recommended bringing concerns directly to the facilitators. I have been doing that quite cordially for some time, and will continue to do so. We are seeking transparency, open meetings, more meetings, more substantive presentations, and more time for questions and full answers.
Composting Program in East River Park
There is a lot of sentiment in favor of the compost yard, but its fate is unclear.
Composting Question: Given that the park South of the amphitheater will not be elevated, and that the compost yard co-existed with construction traffic during the previous years of construction, why is it necessary to displace it from the East River Park? When is the composting program going to be removed? Will it return to the rebuilt East River Park?
Right now, it does not look like it will be. You have consistently promised that the Lower East Side Ecology Center “will have whatever it wants.” Please fulfill this promise.
We need updates on Pier 42, Pier 36, the bathhouses, dedicated bike lanes, and other mitigations. Update: On Sept. 10, 2020, at the Community Board 3 meeting, NYC Parks presented plans for mitigation. Except for constructing parkland on Pier 42 and the LaGuardia bathhouse space, all of the other alternate park spaces already exist. They’ll get a paint job or solar lights. (The other bathhouse is yet to be torn down or refurbished, much less turned into parkland.) That is not adequate mitigation for losing 60% of East River Park. Protected bike lanes are promised but not in place, nor are there accommodations for recreational walkers, runners, and the disabled. The city may provide free ferry service to Governor’s Island–but not from our neighborhood ferry landing. Pier 36, which is a naked expanse of concrete with no shade, was not mentioned.
Mitigation Question: Please press for timely, aesthetically pleasing work on these projects. In this time of crisis, we need these open spaces very much.
We didn’t get to this, but it’s a pressing issue: The DDC is still planning to do noisy construction at night so they don’t have to close any lanes of the FDR during the day.
Overnight Construction Question: Can you insist upon construction and lane closures during the day? Can you also advocate that the FDR not be a free zone when congestion pricing takes effect?
Another question that has come up in the Community Advisory Group: What will be the proportion of all employment in the ESCR? What will be the number of people hired and for what length of time?
Update: At the Community Board 3 meeting Sept. 10, DDC reported that “30% of all new hires on applicable projects will be Section 3 (low-income) individuals.” What are the “applicable projects” in the ESCR What will be the ACTUAL proportion of all jobs in the ESCR?
Please Answer Before Turning East River Park into a Hellscape
This is a lengthy and complicated set of questions. I know there is much going on the neighborhood, the city and the world, and it could be hard to focus on this long-term project that has at present no visible impact on our community. However, I urge you to push hard for satisfactory solutions.
Because of coronavirus and ESCR and NYCHA construction, the next few years in this neighborhood look bleak and vulnerable indeed. While 60 percent of our park will be under heavy, noisy, dirty construction, NYCHA campuses will still be torn up and surrounded with high prison-like chain link fences.
Without our full expanse of parkland as an urban oasis, our neighborhood will be an unrelenting urban hellscape for many years. That is why our group continues to fight for a better plan. Starting this project in the midst of a pandemic, when the park is the only place in the neighborhood to breathe free is especially cruel. But we understand the ESCR could proceed. In that case, the least we can do is insist on the city keeping its promises—and not just in a perfunctory way that dodges the necessity of robust protection, green spaces and emergency preparedness.
**Interim Flood Protection and Evacuation Questions
Here is the email with questions to Suzan Rosen of the Office of Emergency Management about Interim Flood Protection
This is to follow up the report on Interim Flood Protection presented at Community Board 3 Parks, Recreation, Waterfront, & Resiliency Committee meeting via Zoom July 16—and from our phone call the other day.
I really appreciate your willingness to share knowledge. These 10 questions are not just to satisfy my personal curiosity. They questions represent concerns from many people in the community. Thank you for your attention.
Backed up sewers
“Drainage issues are insurmountable,” is what you said at the meeting. However, the report noted that OEM looked into “smaller sites,” not the whole 2.4 mile coastline. OEM counted the 36 catch basins that would have to be covered on NYCHA campuses.
NYCHA is already doing FEMA-funded flood protection work that might include covering catch basins. Yet you noted, “I have no knowledge of what NYCHA is doing.” This was frustrating to hear.
We haven’t a clue as to whether that work would be necessary, and if not, if there are other sections that might be protected.
Question 1) Were catch basins in other sections of the ESCR area studied that might be protected from backflow? If not, can that be done?
Question 2) Is it possible to protect any other sections of the ESCR area from backflow?
In addition, one resident pointed out this seeming contradiction: “NYCEM installed HESCO barriers at the South St. Seaport/Wall St area, even though that area is low-lying, has underground streams and a major storm water conveyance sewer outlet by the Brooklyn Bridge beach area. I was told that the Seaport Museum felt the impact of the surge in their basement prior to the water flooding the streets in that area when Sandy hit. Yet EM says that similar barriers are impractical for the E. 14th/Stuyvesant Cove and other areas of the LES because of the number os Storm Sewer outlets that would have to be capped. Residents need a better explanation.”
Question 3) Why put up barriers for the South St./Wall St. area, which also seem to have significant backflow problems and not put up barriers for the East Village?
Storm Surge Only
During Hurricane Sandy, some areas in the neighborhood suffered only from storm surge flooding, not from back flow. For instance, in the East River coops on either side of Grand St., the parking lot and basements along the FDR flooded only because of the storm surge that flowed over the highway.
Question 4) Are there sections of the ESCR that could be protected with temporary barriers such as HESCOs on either side of the FDR?
Where the Waters Come FromDuring Hurricane Sandy, in the East Village, flood waters poured down Ave. C from the north, not from the park.
It looks like construction is going to begin between 14th and 25th St. where that water would come from, so temporary barriers would get in the way.
Question 5) Has OEM ascertained that there absolutely nothing that can hold back waters that flow down Ave. C in the next three years?
15-Year Flood ProtectionThe report indicated that barriers would be effective in some cases for flooding from hurricanes, but not for a superstorm like Sandy.
Question 6) A plain old hurricane is more likely than a monster like Sandy, so why not plan ahead and put protection in for a more likely storm surge?
You said that the city hired an outside firm and used city engineers as well, but there is no engineering report.
Question 7) How did OEM draw its conclusions if there is no engineering report? Can whatever reports there are be examined?
OEM said it would take at least 24 months to implement an interim flood program. In that time, the real flood protection will almost be ready, which obviates the need for interim protection.
NYC waited eight years after Sandy to look at the possibilities and the city finally promised in November it would look into interim flood protection, and now, apparently, it’s too late. But wait.
Question 8) Why would it take 24 months to put some temporary barriers in place?
OEM pointed out that we would have to evacuate even if temporary barriers were in place. NYCHA protection being installed now will protect buildings, not people, so evacuation will also be necessary even if that protection is in place.
Question 9) Are there evacuation plans and shelters for our entire neighborhood if there is a superstorm–or even a regular old hurricane–in the next three years (minimum)?
Question 10) If we have to evacuate during this pandemic, will shelters have provisions for social distancing?
Thank you for whatever information you can provide. It will help our community immensely to understand what is possible—and to make sure that every possibility is examined.
Air Quality Testing Followup
*The answer on air quality testing from the DDC via the CAG, July 31:
We are not testing inside the community’s private homes. This is not a research project and we do not need to establish a baseline in private properties. As you may know, air testing in any closed or open environment produces results specific to that propose only. We are required to comply with the baselines that are established by Local and State Laws. A self-determined baseline derived from testing the air in private apartments, which have various contributing factors (furniture, rugs, books, etc.), prior to construction will not have any bearing on the contractor’s activities.
We will have air monitoring during construction (in accordance to the plan that will be provided publicly), which will determine any deviations from the thresholds set forth by NYC and NYS mandates.
As explained before, contractors are required to monitor their construction activities regularly to ensure they are not exceeding the allowable thresholds with regards to Air Quality, Dust, Noise, Air Pollution etc.
July 31, Further air quality questions to CAG, also to Rivera and Chin
Thanks for providing that answer. The reason not to test inside an apartment is understood. It would make sense then to test outside, either near apartments or where the construction is to take place. Or both places.
Q cites the reason that testing will be done at all—and only after construction begins—is to comply with state law. That is not the only consideration here. It is not an acceptable answer.
We still need a baseline—and outdoors is fine—to understand what impact construction is having upon our very numerous, very vulnerable residents. I’d like to remind the DDC that any rise in particulate matter in the air leads to higher death rates from Covid-19. We already have high rates of Covid-19 infections and death as well as asthma and upper respiratory ills in this area because of poverty combined with emissions from the FDR, Williamsburg Bridge, and Con Ed. It is not acceptable to increase risk further.
Please let us know if we can expect those tests. If not, can you determine which company is going to be doing the testing so that we can independently commission testing that will provide a usable baseline?
We need baseline testing. Can you convey this information to Q and the DDC?
August 4, 2020
We wanted to follow up with you regarding your question. DDC still has not selected the contractor for the phases of the work that will require air monitoring. The contractors, once selected, will be responsible for the air monitoring plans and subsequent air monitoring. We have flagged your inquiry for follow up with DDC once they have finalized procurement.
Tara (DuVivier from the Community Advisory Group)