By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Since wreaking havoc on the city almost two and a half years ago, Hurricane Sandy has prompted the formation of various programs and projects throughout New York, with efforts being made to prevent such a catastrophe from repeating. One such effort driven by the city is the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, which is in the early planning stages and this past week held workshops looking for input from community residents on how they want to interact with the waterfront.
The workshops were held last Thursday and this past Monday, with the first being held on East Houston Street and the second at Washington Irving High School on Irving Place. A representative for Rebuild by Design, which was launched by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and which ran the competition to come up with solutions for preserving the coastline, said at the event on Monday that the locations were intentional; each workshop covered the same material but was held in different parts of the project area to give residents an option that was in their neighborhood.
Maps were stationed at the back of the auditorium for attendees to provide input on how they interact with the waterfront throughout the project area, which spans from Montgomery Street north to East 23rd Street. Dan Zarrilli, director of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said that one of the major aspects of the process for the project is community engagement and gathering input from activities like this.
“We’re here to listen and we want to make sure that we incorporate the insight of the community,” he said. “We’ve set up a task force with community boards 3 and 6 to be a continuing source of insight. The city came up with this program to recommend things to do. It’s not just about the past, it’s about a range of shocks we endured and looking beyond the coast to build up and reinforce the infrastructure. It’s about interacting with the neighborhood.”
Zarrilli said that much of what the project is focusing on through the end of this year is getting this feedback from the community to create a more complete picture for the design plan and another workshop soliciting input is planned for the end of May.
The project is part of a bigger initiative to protect Lower Manhattan known as the Big U, which was the winning design in the Rebuild by Design competition in 2013. Jeremy Siegel, a project designer with the consultant team of Big U and director of Rebuild by Design, explained at the workshop what the designers are looking at for this phase of the project.
“We’ve been working since December on some of the engineering aspects, like investigating below grade and checking drainage, checking how much water the existing infrastructure can accommodate, surveying the land and inspecting waterfront structures,” he said. “We have divers out in the East River examining the flood risk and checking how high the flood wall would need to go.”
Zarrilli added that community involvement is an important component to add to all the information from the engineers.
“We’ll be taking the site surveys and all of the engineering things with the overlay of the community process so we can understand everything in context,” he said. “Community engagement is key.”
Siegel noted that within the space from Montgomery to East 23rd, the project is split into two project areas: Montgomery to East 14th Streets and East 14th to 23rd Streets. All of the neighborhoods in these areas had different challenges during Hurricane Sandy and Siegel said that part of the design plans will be the considerations for different aspects of the area, such as the substation at Con Edison that flooded and caused power outages throughout Lower Manhattan, as well as the NYCHA properties and hospitals that are nearby that also suffered flood damage. The three different options for mitigating flooding in the future that Siegel outlined include some kind of berm or levee, a permanent floodwall or some kind of deployable floodwall.
“(The deployable wall) would only be put in place in a storm event,” Siegel said. “These carry risks because human operation is involved, so we’re looking at more passive and permanent measures, so resiliency is there in a robust way.”
One resident asked at the workshop why the project area didn’t extend past East 23rd Street since the hospitals in that area had been badly damaged by flooding as well. Zarrilli explained that billions of dollars are already being invested in that area through different projects.
“The city just announced more funding for Bellevue and NYU is receiving FEMA money, so this project is focusing south,” he said.
Peter Cooper Resident Anne Greenberg had a related question about one such project that the VA Hospital on East 23rd Street has proposed, which includes a floodwall to protect the facility from water damage in the future. She noted that in the event of flooding like that in the future, the water could be redirected right into Peter Cooper Village. Zarrilli noted that they are looking at flood modeling to make sure that doesn’t happen and added that they do intend to talk to STPCV management to work with them, but he couldn’t confirm that they have yet.
Following the workshops, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney emphasized the importance of the project and praised the mayor’s office for the initiative.
“We need to immediately address the City’s vulnerability to extreme storms, which are only increasing in frequency and severity as a result of climate change,” Maloney said. “Lower Manhattan was particularly hard hit, and I am pleased to have worked to obtain federal funding to improve the resiliency of the area. I applaud Mayor de Blasio and the Office of Recovery and Resiliency for coordinating the city-wide efforts to protect our residents and infrastructure and for including the public in the planning. The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project is an important first step in preparing Manhattan’s East Side for future storms and will offer new open space and amenities that will benefit our community for generations to come.”