Curbed: Neighbors blast East Side flood protection plan, have two extra weeks to weigh in

At a packed public hearing on Wednesday night, elected officials, neighbors, and advocates expressed their concerns about the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project, and a city official announced a two-week extension on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) comment period.

Though Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called for a two-month delay on the project’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) first deputy commissioner Jamie Torres Springer said at the hearing that only the DEIS comment period will be extended for two weeks.

Esplanade embayment, from the ESCR preliminary design July 17 presentation.
 Courtesy of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC)

Ian Michaels, a spokesperson for the DDC said that the comment period for the DEIS, which has been open since April, will now be extended until August 30.

“Each comment received will be reviewed and responded to in the Final EIS to be published in September,” Michaels said in a statement. “The ULURP process also continues, and the public can provide comments to the Department of City Planning through the agency’s website until mid-September.”

The City Planning Commission hearing will still take place on July 31 at 10 a.m., at 120 Broadway—so the ULURP will continue to move forward. The final vote is scheduled for late September.

But community members and officials voiced their concerns on the current construction timeline and project design. Some concerns include lack of access to community green areas, bike lanes, and some pedestrian routes during the construction period, as well as the fact that the project’s design drastically changed late last year.

“Given the $1.45 billion cost of the project, the importance of its goals, and the profound community impacts that the construction and closure of the park will have, the city should appoint an outside panel of experts to analyze the existing proposal and determine whether that plan is the best approach to provide long-term protections against flooding while preserving the public’s access to valuable green space,” State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assembly member Harvey Epstein said in a joint statement.

Torres Springer said at the hearing that construction for the project is expected to begin in March of next year and be fully completed within three and a half years, but with functional flood protection operational by hurricane season 2023.

From the ESCR DDC July 17 presentation.Courtesy of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC)

“The design of the project as proposed is to be able to address the 100-year storm that we have projected to the 2050s,” Torres Springer said.

The plan, created in response to flooding after Hurricane Sandy, is aimed at strengthening the coastline between Montgomery and 25th Streets and improving waterfront open spaces and their access.

“We need to ask whether this plan will create climate justice in the long term,” Naomi Schiller, a resident of the Lower East Side and cultural anthropologist at Brooklyn College, said.

“This project vastly increases the attractiveness of real estate development throughout the East Village and the Lower East Side and the DEIS actually makes very clear in their findings [that] unintended consequences of creating greater resiliency in the new park, [are] very likely gentrification and displacement, so we need much more bolder thinking and planning for the implications of this project,” she added.