By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The plan to provide flood protection to the community along the East River has shifted design elements from East 23rd Street to 25th Street due to complications with the intersection in the original plan. The Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency announced the changes to the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) plan in a task force meeting with Community Boards 3 and 6 on Tuesday night.
Representatives from the Office of Recovery and Resiliency as well as the urban design team working on the project have spoken at community meetings previously about the plan, the goal of which is to provide flood protection from Montgomery Street to East 23rd Street, incorporating floodwalls and an elevated park.
Carrie Grassi, Deputy Director for Planning at the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said that the “tieback” was moved to East 25th Street because East 23rd Street is a technically difficult area.
“We’re trying to come up with an alternative that doesn’t make that intersection worse,” she said.
Grassi explained that to understand the purpose of a “tieback,” it helps to imagine the project area as a compartment rather than just a barrier along the East River. Physically, the tieback is an extension of the floodwall that goes slightly inland at the ends.
“The idea is that the project will protect everything inside the area by tying back into the community so the flooding doesn’t go beyond the floodwall,” she said.
Grassi noted that putting that kind of structure at East 23rd Street would have meant sending a wall along the median or along the recreation center. Instead, the updated plan will have the wall going back along the FDR, tying to the VA Hospital and connecting to the wall that they’re building.
“Looking at 23rd Street, the bathhouse is a historic structure and we didn’t want to impede the entrance to that,” she said.
Jeremy Siegel, a project designer with the consultant team of Big U and director of Rebuild by Design, also noted changes to the project around the Con Edison facility at Avenue C near East 13th Street. The initial designs for the plan didn’t go into enough detail taking the existing equipment into consideration but Siegel said that further into the design process, they found that transmission lines within the project area can’t be moved and they’re working on creating tunnels so the lines can be accessed if they need repairs.
Grassi said that there is an updated schedule for the project because Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is providing funding for the project, has changed their requirements. The previous requirement was that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had to be submitted before the action plan amendment but the agency released a notice at the beginning of this month that they were dropping that requirement.
“That means we can spend more time on design before entering the regulatory review process,” she said.
She noted that there is still a time limit on the use of the HUD funding, meaning that the money set aside for this project needs to be used by 2022, and the city is still working with this deadline in mind, but she said that spending more time on the design means pushing the ground-breaking from 2017 to late 2018/early 2019.
She added that the team is focusing on using the HUD funding before it becomes unavailable but that even if the project goes beyond 2022, the city has committed funding that could be used for the project.