What’s wrong with the flood control plan for the Lower East Side? Let’s see the report and find out, says a new lawsuit.
NYC may have to reveal the contents of a hidden study that supposedly justified the complete destruction of East River Park and the building of a giant levee at double the cost of the original plan.
A lawsuit filed April 2 asks for full disclosure of the much-discussed but largely unseen Value Engineering Study. Joining the lawsuit brought by East River Park Action attorney Jack Lester are Manhattan Borough President candidate Lindsey Boylan; and City Council candidates Christopher Marte, Erin Hussein, and Allie Ryan. The political club Grand Street Democrats also joined along with community activists.
They seek transparency, accountability and a re-examination of the massive flood control project to find alternatives that will preserve parkland.
Report? What report?
Mayor Bill de Blasio cited the Value Engineering study in September 2018 as the reason for the radical change in the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan. An independent analyst hired by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Rivera in 2019 requested the study and other technical reports, but he did not receive them. He had to make his evaluation based on guesses.
City agencies then deceived elected officials and community members about the existence of the report. The Department of Design and Construction, which is overseeing the project, told City Council Member Carlina Rivera in 2019 that the study did not exist.
In December 2020, East River Park Action activists filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the study. There were “no responsive documents,” the city replied.
An appeal to the FOIL unearthed a heavily redacted Value Engineering Study and Elevated Park Alternative Feasibility Analysis in February. A further appeal resulted in a slightly less blacked-out version of the reports.
That is what led East River Park Action to take legal action against the mayor and the Office of Management and Budget in State Supreme Court for the release of the entire Value Engineering Study without redactions.
“The failure to come clean with our community demonstrates the contempt the Administration has for our community,” says Jonathan Lefkowitz of East River Park Action. “The Administration would never try to shove a plan like this in other neighborhoods with greater resources.”
What’s wrong with the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan?
The radically revised East Side Coastal Resiliency project overrode years of planning with community input. The existing 1.2 miles of parkland would no longer act as an absorbent coastline rising into long hills to protect the Lower East Side and East Village. Instead, the entire park would be buried under eight feet of fill A new park eventually would be built on top.
The project has been repeatedly delayed. Before it has really begun, construction bids show costs far higher than the $1.45 billion budget. The project also faces deep community opposition and skepticism. Yet the city failed to provide the document that was supposed to make it clear why the city changed the plan.
“We are looking for transparency, oversight and accountability,” says Lefkowitz. “Alternatives must be considered before destroying a heavily used 82-year-old park adjacent to a low and middle income neighborhood.”
Some of those alternatives may be outlined in the Value Engineering Study. Other alternatives in line with current climate science and environmental justice must be considered before the East Side Coastal Resiliency continues.
Other Legal Action
This is the second lawsuit brought by East River Park Action. Attorney Arthur Schwartz is planning an appeal of East River Park Action’s “Alienation” lawsuit, which would provide state legislative oversight.
Jonathan B. Lefkowitz: firstname.lastname@example.org 646.216.8380
Article 78 Petition–Supreme Cour State of New York County of New York, East River Park Action, Inc., et al, against Mayor Bill De Blasio and the Office of Management and Budget: https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/nyscef/ViewDocument?docIndex=ieWpAPIpAc32aETjx1sW7A==
East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR)project
Value Engineering Study referenced in Mayor De Blasio’s press release
Value Engineering Study, 2018, heavily redacted: <https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/escr/downloads/pdf/ESCR-Value-Engineering-Study-Preliminary-Report-2018.pdf>
Elevated Park Alternative Feasibility Analysis
Report Raises Alarming Questions About the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Plan for East River Park in Manhattan—report by independent consultant hired by Manhattan Borough President and CCM Carlina Rivera, 2019: